Sep 30, 2010

Goodbye Jure

Sad news. Jure Robic (one of the heroes of our Limits show) died in a bicycle accident on Friday, just a few miles from his home town of Jesenice, Slovenia.

Lulu Miller, who reported the story in which Jure appeared, wrote in to share some moments from the interview that did not make it into the final piece:

I interviewed Jure over the phone in Slovenia last December. We talked for nearly three hours. He was at home, his family and friends sitting around him, having drinks, eating oranges, “and cakes,” he said, “I mean… cookies.” The interview had particularly jolly tone. Occasionally Jure would pass the phone over to his crew chief Matjaz, or check in with his girlfriend about how to better phrase something in English. There was a lot of laughter. This was something I didn’t expect. I thought he’d be serious, perhaps even humorless about his unearthly capacity for endurance.

Instead, Jure was open, infectiously charming, and quick to laugh. He talked about mastering the art of peeing from his bike (those precious two minute breaks add up, he said). He lamented his crew’s music choice during his first Race Across America, “they brought along only one CD. It was Lenny Kravitz,” he groaned, “I heard that song ‘American Woman’ literally thousands of times.” He said that when he needed to be cheered up, his crew would tell him jokes. When I pressed for an example, he said he couldn’t possibly share it, “it’s too much…” he stammered, “it’s like a man’s joke” and wouldn’t say anymore. I could hear Matjaz’s thick laughter in the background.

On the December evening we talked, Jure had just finished a typical training day: running up the snow-covered mountain near his house twelve times (he had to wear boots and run with ski poles just to make it through the snow) and then a three-hour bike ride through the wind and ice. I got the feeling that Jure was truly happy when he trained. His whole life revolved around this one thing—the impulse to push himself as long and as hard as he could—nothing else brought him such meaning, such purpose. It’s rare that we know, so precisely, what we want in life. But Jure did. Perhaps this is why so many people, many complete strangers to him, have been touched and rattled by his death. (Look on comment boards on articles about his accident, on his webpage page, or facebook page; there is an outpouring of love and incredulity about his death.) I think he was a beacon, a sort of freakish example of someone so singularly living a dream.

When I asked if there were mornings where he just didn’t feel like getting up and doing it, the laughter slipped out of the room and his voice turned grave. “No,” he said, “Never. When you’re doing this, you feel alive. It fills you with this feeling…. It’s a deep feeling. I don’t know quite how to say it in English… I feel good.” He said that as he cycled it was like he was pedaling the demons away, burning them off. Thus, time spent on his bike was time he spent as a completely liberated self--free from any demons, his dark side temporarily extinguished. When I asked if he ever used anger or rage to push through the pain, again, he calmly said, “No. When it’s really tough, I’m thinking only positive things. Like my son. His smiling. The people who like me, who love me.”

Jure told me that one year his crew pulled up beside him in a van with a huge poster-sized photo of his son. He had no idea that they had made it, and he said when he saw it, he got this energy, he didn’t know from where, that allowed him to start pedaling faster than he had in hours. Seeing his son, he said, made the pain get “smaller and smaller and smaller.”

I can’t yet process that Jure Robic, a man so filled with life, is not alive anymore. But I keep thinking about how his mind worked while he was on that bike. If everything he said in the interview is true, then in his last moments, as he biked along a forested road in his beloved Slovenia, he was filled with a feeling so good words couldn’t express it, and if there was any pain at all, he would have conjured up the image of his son and his girlfriend, and they would have been there with him, as the echoes faded, making the pain diminish altogether.




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