My friend Tom Stormcrowe, longtime administrator at BikeForums.net, died Sunday morning.
The bare facts of Tom’s life, as I know them, are just bare facts. He served in the US Army, he spent most of his post military life as a long distance truck driver, and he was married to his wife for decades. He gave up driving when he became ill, and returned to college to study philosophy and psychology. He used “Stormcrowe” as his Internet name consistently once he discovered how awful people online can be. He played classical guitar, lived in Indiana, loved the outdoors, and from 2007 on was an administrator on BikeForums.net.
But more important for me, and for many people, is how he spent the last ten years of his life. After nearly losing it, he spent it, and he spent all of it. On himself, and on other people.
In March 2005 Tom was nearly six hundred pounds, on oxygen, and in a wheelchair, thanks to a hormonal problem that brought on excessive weight gain. On March 11 he underwent gastric bypass surgery in an attempt to save his life. Its here Tom would share his photo, and I’ll do that for him now.
Being an endurance cyclist means pushing yourself. Even if it means wearing an oxygen tank when riding.
I’d like to write Tom went from two wheeled triumph to triumph, but its not so. Tom’s old blog from 2008 on was increasingly filled with posts like “I’m in the hospital again!” In 2010 he developed atrial fibrillation, and shortly after he joined Club Coumadin. A series of strokes and other problems thwarted his plans. He gave up cycling, and then riding a trike, and his sailboat Candide…. his time in Florida was spent as often in a hospital as at home.
The worst of this decline is that Tom was a man with big ideas and big plans. The boat Candide, for instance, was for an extended sailing trip up and down the Atlantic coast. His longest bike ride was dawn to dusk for 160 miles – and he wanted to do more. His planned doctorate was going to be on the psychological effects of super obesity. For most of us the time between the birth and death dates is represented by a dash. For Tom, he tried to turn that dash into an exclamation point. He talked in exclamation points, he wrote with them always, and I believe he thought in them. He pushed himself. Or as Tom would say, he pushed himself!
Put he also pushed other people. And often subtly. And this is where my story with Tom begins. There will be a thousand Tom stories shared among people who knew him, but here is mine.
We’d met on a web forum before I’d learned to ride a bike. As I struggled to learn to ride, I followed Tom to Bike Forums, where he was the genial and gruff moderator of the Clydesdale/Athena Forum. (Clydesdale and Athena are class names from racing for riders male and female over the usual weight and height.)
One of my first posts to the forum was my account of an incident with Bicycle Club of Philadelphia on a beginner’s ride, where the ride leader was abusive to me and put me in danger. (Among other things, he grabbed my handlebars when I was riding without telling me he was going to do so.)
I resolved the problem with the bike club, and shared the resolution on Bike Forums. Tom’s comment to me was that, yes, I faced challenges when riding, but that made me better able to help others facing challenges. Tom was right, and the road he suggested I take, helping others, brought me to this website. Thank you, Tom.
Tom Stormcrowe was a constant in my life. When I rode solo from Pittsburgh to Washington DC in 2008, Tom kept Bike Forums updated about my progress. (I still remember what he said to me during our first phone call: “Neil you talk just like you write!”) When I had wheel trouble on the road, he helped organize a possible rescue for me. When I drove back home afterward, he called me to give me directions to a truck stop where I could clean up and get a good meal. And while he was doing this for me, he was helping other people either directly or via Bike Forums achieve their goals and dreams through encouragement and advice.
We’d planned to meet in person over the years, but they never came to fruition. And they were big plans. Sorry, big plans! Tom wanted to take me on an extended backpacking trip, and wanted to design a sled I could haul my gear on. He was going to ride across the US with me at one point. But we kept up a lively and often contentious conversation via email, Facebook, Skype, and Bike Forums. I’ve rarely known a person as consistently wrongheaded on so many things as Tom Stormcrowe, and I’m very sure he would say that about me. I’ve also rarely known a more wrongheaded person I’d like to talk to.
My last significant exchange with Tom was in January, during my visit to Florida. I’d planned to travel two hours south to see him at the assisted living center in Fort Pierce, but he was too ill to receive visitors. His pain levels were very high and I’d been exposed to headcolds up north. Tom was on drugs that suppressed his immune system, so my visiting was out of the question.
Tom took the news in a good spirit:
“Sorry we couldn’t get together this time around but, next time I will be healthier and we will do that fishing. I’ve already found charter boats that have wheelchair access for me. Once I’m strapped in the fighting seat, I don’t have to get worried about being dragged out of the boat. This is entirely possible with a big enough fish by the way!’
I agreed we would do that, but I knew at that point we would never take that fishing trip.
Tom’s last communication with the world was typical. On March 4th, he posted to Facebook:
“Today, it was a real corker! 1 of my neighbors just went through the final physical. Her cancer is now end stage. She just went to hospice. She asked me for a copy of my Let It Be cover and Amazing Grace.”
In his last month of life Tom provided comfort, through his music, to a woman in HER final days. Even to his end he was helping other people. That’s how I’ll remember Tom. As when I picture him, it will be during one of his last long distance rides, the 2009 Tour de Cure at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not in a hospital bed, but out in the world putting in an exclamation point.
Rest in peace, Tom.