David Clarkson signed up for the 2010 Ride with Lance in the name of charity. What he got was “the coolest experience” of his life.
Meeting seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was only one of the highlights for Clarkson, who completed the 120-km cycling course (roughly 75 miles) in four hours, 25 minutes. On Aug. 28, the third-annual race raised over $1 million to support cancer programs and patient care in Clarkson’s native Ontario.
“Good cause, but it was hard,” Clarkson told newjerseydevils.com. “I’ve never done anything to that extent that you mentally have to tell yourself to keep going. I think there’s times when you feel like, ‘OK, I’ve had enough.’ But you think of all those kids while they’re watching and they’re the reason you’re doing it. I think that kind of pushes you to want to finish.”
Two years ago, Clarkson helped start Clarky’s Kids along with his former junior team, the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. The program gives children from the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario the chance to experience a Kitchener game and meet with the players and coaching staff.
When Ride with Lance organizers reached out to Clarky’s Kids, Clarkson jumped at the chance to ride. He arranged for 10 of the program’s children to join him at the event. Then, at a dinner the night before the race, Armstrong, who overcame testicular cancer, asked to meet them.
“I really thought he was a good guy,” Clarkson said. “He was joking around and right when he got there, he brought all the kids back from my charity to meet them, signed autographs for all of them, shook their hands. I brought all the kids back into his tent to meet him and he was giving them high fives.”
Millions have been inspired by Armstrong’s cycling achievements and fund-raising efforts.
“He’s beaten it, and they’re all going through and trying to beat it,” said Clarkson. “To a lot of them, it’s just one of the most thrilling moments of their lives. It’s something that they can look at and say, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Last season, Clarkson suffered a leg fracture after blocking a Zdeno Chara slapshot. After a promising start to the year, he was forced to miss all but 46 games. It was a tough setback in only his third full season, but one that has been put in a new perspective.
“I sat down with him and one of the things I said was that it was just an honor to meet him,” Clarkson said, describing his time with Armstrong. “I went through something tough last year – I had hockey taken away from me because of the broken leg. I would think of somebody like that with what they’ve been through and what they’ve done in their life and be like, ‘This is nothing.’”
The Ride with Lance was no easy cruise through the park. And unfortunately, Clarkson’s offseason regimen wasn’t much help for an endurance sport like cycling.
“It was hard because I couldn’t train for it,” he said. “I trained for hockey all summer and I wasn’t going to change the way I train or what I did just to be good for this one big bike ride. I wasn’t on a bike all summer; my trainer doesn’t believe that riding the bike helps me, so I haven’t done bike rides for three years.”
Hockey workouts focus on developing explosive high-energy bursts in short intervals.
“Those guys are training long distance and they’re more constant at the same speed,” he explained. “We train for quickness. We train for 30, 40 seconds of just full-out speed and then we’re done. You might on a shift only go as hard as you can for 10 seconds when a shift’s 30 seconds long. Those guys are going 70 percent for the majority of that race, then turning it up to 100 for the last little while. It’s just two different types of training. You train that way for a month, and it would make you slower. You wouldn’t have that acceleration.”
Players then have to manage those bursts over 60-minute games.
“You won’t find a player that plays a minute where he’s flying the whole shift,” he said. “The guy wouldn’t last three periods. It’s a very explosive game. In bike riding, it was definitely an eye opener for me with the type of shape these guys are in. I was joking with them that they should come on the ice and do what we do. They were pretty impressed that I finished. I was impressed that I got through it.”
Clarkson’s riding earned an acknowledgment from the cycling legend when Armstrong, who came out of retirement at age 37 to compete in the Tour de France in July, applauded his effort.
“The next night again we were riding together and he was joking with me, "Hey you got through that, eh?’” he said. “He was just very down to earth and seemed like a very humble person. It just took him to another level on my opinion of him, getting to know him as a person.”
Clarkson’s not sure about hopping on the bike again next year. He hopes to contribute to the cause again, even if only as a spectator.
“I would like to help out with it, but riding it was hard,” he said. “It’s that constant rolling over the legs, you get the lactic acid buildup. Especially when they took off at the end, Lance and them were going 50km an hour on the straightaway. That’s no hill – just straight 50 km an hour. And I’m like near the end, huffing, going twenty-something.”
Still, when his legs said no, Clarkson’s heart kept him going all the way to the finish line.
“There were times when I told myself, ‘Ok, I have to get off,’” he said. “But then, l’d see a little kid on the side – they had everything roped off where you’d see fans; I saw a kid wearing a Clarky’s Kids shirt – and I’m like, ‘I can’t get off this thing, that kid’s there.’ Then you try and battle through it.”
NJD NOTES Clarkson, who’s been skating informally at Prudential Center with some of his Devils teammates, reports that the right leg he fractured last season is in great shape.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s been probably the best summer I’ve had in a long time and I feel great out there.”
He didn’t have to change anything about his summer training to accommodate the leg. After last year’s setback, he’s even more antsy for the Sept. 17 start to training camp.
“I went into the summer the same way I do every summer,” he said. “I did a lot of treatment things for not just my leg but my whole body. Lately, I’ve felt better than I ever have. I’ve got that itch to get going and start hitting people. It’s hard out there, you’ve got kids toe-dragging and you want to crush them.”