Tuesday, April 20, 2010



By Janet Lyn
Copyright April 20, 2010

It was the shout of determination heard ‘round the world.


And it came from a 9-year-old boy riding his first road bicycle in his first criterium race.

This weekend I was profoundly moved and completely inspired by this cyclist who is not quite yet a pro.

But in every way that counts, he is already a pro at one of life’s most important lessons.

He knows how to hang in there and persevere, to finish what he started, to endure no matter what.

He knows that what’s most important is to never, ever give up.

Even if you are not a cyclist or a fan of cycling, this cyclist will inspire you. I guarantee it.

His name is Preston Franklin. He is 9 years old and he’s a third-grade student in Knoxville, Tennessee.

He didn’t even start riding a bicycle without training wheels until a couple of years ago ~ when he was in the first grade.

Preston won’t turn 10 years old till Dec. 23rd. That means whenever he races, he will likely be the youngest racing against other boys with birthdays much earlier in the year. He’s allowed to ride in the 10-year-old category, though, because anyone who turns 10 before Dec. 31 of the race year can compete as a junior cyclist.

When Preston raced Sunday, April 18 in the Dogwood Crit in Tennessee, he was up against other cyclists who were much older than him.

For those not familiar with cycling terms, a crit ~ or criterium ~ is a race similar to riding laps really fast around a pre-determined course with tight corners where racers vie for the best spots.

The Junior Division of the Dogwood Crit, in which Preston raced, featured a course with steep uphill climbs, tight corners and 25 minutes of solid racing outside the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville.

He raced lap after lap for 25 minutes against a field of 15 other riders who ranged in age from 10-18 years old.

But even at his tender young age, Preston was as ready as he could be. For Christmas and his birthday, Preston got his first real road bike, a brand new, shiny Felt.

He had trained indoors during the winter with his father, Vic Franklin, who loves to ride bicycles and even became Tennessee’s state road cycling champion at the age of 18.

Vic is Preston’s main hero when it comes to cycling and life.

Garmin-Transitions procyclist and reigning and five-time U.S. National Time Trial Champion Dave Zabriskie comes in a close second. Meeting “DZ” in person at the recent 2009 Nationals gave Preston extra motivation and inspiration for his own cycling.

But his Dad and his family remain Number One in young Preston’s life.

“I have two inspirations: Dave Zabriskie and most of all, my Dad. My Dad is tied with the rest of my family for the rest of my life for being the most important in my life,” he said proudly.

Preston receives plenty of encouragement from his Mom, Anita B. Franklin, a true and dedicated cycling fan who follows cycling races passionately all year long and knows more about procycling than most men or women.  Occasionally, she even rides her own pink bicycle with a basket and pompoms.

That’s why both Anita and Vic Franklin wanted their only son’s first experience with racing a crit to be exciting and fun, with no pressure.

“He wanted to do this race,” Anita said. “We were concerned that he might be turned off to cycling if he didn’t do well or if it was too hard on him.”

Preston also had cycled outdoors on his new road bike whenever he could. He even rode in the wind and rain and mud on a recent family vacation to the North Carolina mountains with his father and Dr. Rick Clayton, a Georgia chiropractor and avid cyclist, in conditions they described as like riding a bike most of the time in Belgium --- meaning it was tough, very tough.

But Preston Franklin is one tough kid.

“Life is not easy, and you don’t want your child thinking it’s easy,” Anita said, as she explained why she and her husband have always encouraged Preston to try new challenges.

Athletics has been a particular challenge for Preston, in part because he deals with asthma. He’s tried T-ball, judo and soccer. With cycling, he feels like he’s found a better fit.

But he’s also a really well-rounded boy. He excels at academics and plays piano well. He’s active in Cub Scouts. He dreams of getting into M.I.T. and becoming an inventor and designer.

A lot of people know Preston and his family because the whole family --- including his grandparents, Jane and Mark Franklin (Vic's Dad Mark is also a longtime cycling racer) and Jeff Burnett --- is on Twitter. They love cycling. More than anything, though, they love Preston.

So when Preston got ready to start the Dogwood Crit, his parents and grandparents Jane and Mark ~ (Jeff was cheering for him in spirit from a fishing trip) ~ were stationed at all four corners of the course.

Even at the very start of the race, Preston faced challenges and kept on going.

“I was kind of nervous and I was kind of shaking a little,” Preston said, of the daunting prospect of racing in his first crit against cyclists much older than him. “I was like, how am I gonna start? I’m not sure if I can do it in a large group.”

He recalled what happened when he got on the bike and tried to start riding.

“My foot missed the pedal and I had to start again,” Preston said. “I just thought, oh well, I’ll just catch up.”

Preston took off finally and started racing the crit. About the middle of the 25-minute race, he had to come to terms with the fact that he was behind the other riders.

“I was going kinda slow and I knew it,” he said. “But I knew they only take you out of the race if you decide to stop. And I’d been keeping my pace. I didn’t care if I won; it was just for fun. So I kept riding.”

Preston’s Mom, as she usually does at cycling events, was busy tweeting the race play-by-play. Only this time, her tweets were a lot more personal.

At one point, she tweeted: “About to get lapped by big kids. He's still pedaling!”

Meanwhile, Preston said his Dad had been careful to make sure he didn’t feel any pressure and had reassured him that no matter what happened, they were proud of his efforts.

“My Dad said if it was hurting really bad that I could just go to the pit and tell them I wanted to stop,” Preston explained. “My lungs were hurting worse than ever at the end. But I decided I’d do the next lap and keep going. So I just went ahead and did it.

Anita said she and Vic had made sure Preston knew there was no shame if he had to stop before finishing the race. Their main concern, she said, was that their son would still enjoy cycling after that race.

“I think I looked at him like, ‘Are you okay?’” Preston’s Mom Anita recalled. “I was wondering what he was thinking as he was going around there near the end. I anticipated they would pull him or he’d get to Lap 4 and say that’s all he could do. It was very hilly and the climb up to me was pretty steep.”

His family thought he’d probably stop about that point. But Preston soldiered on.

“When you’re tired and your lungs are burning and there’s your Mom and you could stop and be safe…,” said Anita, stopping in mid-thought. “But he had his hands tight on his handlebars and he looked over at me and yelled, ‘I’m NOT GONNA QUIT!!’ Like he was answering a silent question.”

At that point, about 9:45 a.m. EDT Sunday, Preston’s Mom tweeted:

“He's dead last out here, knows it, and is still riding. Just came around the corner and yelled, "I'm NOT GONNA QUIT!” Ok, If you're not crying, you're made of stone. #dogwoodcrit

What Preston didn’t know at the time is that when he yelled out “I’m NOT GONNA QUIT,” it quickly became the determined shout heard around the world, thanks to Twitter and the Internet.

What no one knew until now, though, is Preston ~like all true champions~ had made up his mind BEFORE the race that he was going to follow through, no matter what.

“In the car on the way there, I made a silent promise in my head that I wasn’t going to quit, that I was going to finish the race no matter how bad it hurt,” Preston said. “I knew I wouldn’t win but I would finish.”

Preston’s fierce determination to finish his race and not quit immediately resonated with grown men and women around the world and inspired everyone who heard about it, as word got out via his Mom’s twittering.

It even reached his procycling hero, DaveZabriskie, who sent him a tweet Monday night via Preston’s Mom: “Good job man...never quit.”

As any cyclist or true cycling fan knows, finishing a tough race even in last place is no small thing. In fact, the procyclist who endures to the end and finishes the race in last place receives a special honor—the famed Lanterne Rouge (Red Lantern) --- because there is true honor in finishing and not quitting.

For awhile, Preston’s family thought he had achieved Lanterne Rouge honors by coming in last in the race, while still finishing it.

As it turned out, Preston actually didn’t technically come in last after all. One of his older competitors did not finish. DNF. The letters no racer wants to see next to his or her name in any race.

But 9-year-old Preston Franklin finished his race and finished it proudly and triumphantly.

“After the race, he was on Cloud Nine,” Anita said. “He was so happy he finished. His goal was not to win but to finish the race, so he made his goal. Because we love cycling so much, we were thrilled. We were beyond proud.”

Now, Preston is already gearing up for his next race, the Athens Twilight this weekend in Athens, Georgia.

“He knows there’s nowhere to go but up,” his Mom said proudly.

Preston quotes the legendary voice of Le Tour de France ~ procycling commentator Phil Liggett ~ when asked what advice he has for anyone facing struggles in life, after finishing his own tough race.

“Have courage,” Preston said. “Dig deep into the suitcase of courage, like Phil Liggett says.”

Good advice, because like Preston’s Mom said, “Life is not easy.”

Most of us know that all too well.

I’ll tell you one other thing I know for sure though now.

Next time I face something seemingly insurmountable in my own life, I’m going to think of 9-year-old Preston Franklin riding his bike as hard as he could, with his heart full of determination and courage.

And even if there’s no one else around to hear me, I’m going to hold on tight in the midst of my struggles and raise my voice and yell,

Bravo, Preston.
And thank you for inspiring me and a lot of people around the world.
You are my hero.

***Author's Note:***
For the firsthand version from Preston's Mom, Anita B. Franklin, here's her blog post about what it was like for her watching his first crit race:

*All photos used by permission with this story courtesy of Anita B. Franklin, Vic Franklin and Preston's Granny Jane Franklin (Thank You!!)*

***Author's Note 2***
Preston's hero, his Dad Vic Franklin, also raced in the Dogwood Crit on Sunday, April 18 and came in 7th in his division!!
~ALLEZ Vic!!~


Billy Coffey said...

Wow, what an incredible story! This one brought tears to my eyes.

katdish said...

Sounds like my kind of kid. Folks give up way too easy these days it seems. Good for him.

José Been said...

What a great inspirational story Janet. Preston is one hell of a character to be able to finish this. Great spirit to become a champion

Kelly Langner Sauer said...

yup, tears. oh, the difference between winning and running... you have deeply encouraged me today.

Anonymous said...

What an inspiration! Great story that definitely gave me chills. Thanks for sharing.

Duane Scott said...

Absolutely wonderful! As a boy with asthma, I admire his determination! I also have a story or two like this. One time I ran until my vision tunneled in, and I could no longer breathe. I just love this kid!