The heart of Kaleb Whittingstall: Guest post

The following is a guest post about a local cyclist named Kaleb Whittingstall. He started volunteering with our Bike Valet program back in 2010 and has worked at Bridge City Bicycle Co-op as well. Kaleb turns 18 on May 4th.

By Miles Patrick Yohnke

The cycling time trial is truly a race of truth. In the cycle of life there will be times that we will be challenged to face our own personal truth.

I would meet Kaleb Whittingstall through Bridge City Bicycle Co-op (BCBC), a wonderful organization in my home city of Saskatoon. BCBC is a non-profit, volunteer driven, openly accessible, community owned co-operative. BCBC envisions everyone having access to a bicycle. To help build a strong, healthy, and environmentally sound community.

Kaleb was 15 when I first met him. The simple fact that he was volunteering already tells you a lot about his character and value system. He was so mature for his age that BCBC had him on television on behalf of the organization to speak of their upcoming events. He was a wonderful spokesperson and represented their organization professionally and with great dignity.

Starting in the summer of 2020 I had the great fortune and honour to cycle with him. He was now 17 years old. We cycled many miles. During these kindred times I’d learn a lot more about this wonderful young man and his inner thoughts. I’d learn about his environmental concerns that mirrored my own. He shared he was vegan and I would learn in great detail about his diet and even how he made his own energy drinks. How he was doing his own part to reduce his impact on our environment. He was a far deeper thinker for his age than anyone I had ever met. Here was a person who had done a lot of inner self reflecting and had a plan already in place for how he wanted to live his life.

Kaleb was all heart in the saddle with an unbelievable grit and determination I immediately thought he’d be great in races. He joined Saskatchewan Cycling Association, Performance Cycling Program, and Cycledelia and soon found himself in his first time trial presented by Cycledelia. The time trial is often referred to as “the race of truth” and many even consider it to be an art form unto itself. The fact is it takes a lot of hard training, discipline, and mental fortitude to excel at this level of cycling.

In his training we’d cycle to towns in our province of Saskatchewan and back. Often we’d cycle 120kms (75 miles) or further. We’d cycle out to the time trial course of that week and he’d race the course as I stood at the start/finish line to time him and discuss how to adjust his program to improve his timings. He was totally invested with improving and applied himself with absolute vigour. Time trials aren’t easy. They’re about finding that hidden motor within yourself. These solo races against the clock and trainings are not for the faint of heart. He soon started posting times as fast or faster than some of the more advanced adult riders.

One particular Sunday morning at 7 a.m. I picked him up at his home to go out training. His family was gone for the weekend and at about 3 a.m. someone had tried to break in to the family home. He phoned the police and scared the robber off before they arrived. Kaleb had to deal with the police. Can you just imagine his mental state? He had just slept a few hours before I came to get him. He didn’t tell me “I can’t go” or give me any excuses. He ended up cycling 140kms (85 miles) with me out on the highway that day and at a very fast tempo. What is tempo riding in cycling? Tempo bike rides are 76-90% of your FTP (functional threshold power) and the amount of wattage a cyclist can generate and sustain over an hour. At this level you can still talk to your friend next to you, and although your breathing may be slightly laboured, you can still speak in short bursts of sentences. You probably need to catch your breath here and there if you are telling a story. Not once did Kaleb make any excuses. He just executed.

After the cycling season ended we started our off-season training. Our province of Saskatchewan is fairly flat in many areas. Our beautiful city of Saskatoon is also fairly flat but there are a few hills and there are three hills in particular on McPherson Avenue. Those three hills are called “bingo, bango, bongo.” Kaleb & I did “bingo, bango, bongo” many times. First with him placing sand in his bicycle tube and then patching it up and adding air to the tube. He also mounted 20 pounds of sand on the back of his vintage yellow Bianchi bicycle that he had purchased from BCBC to create more resistance. Then Kaleb switched to his Olmo vintage race bike. This training made him very efficient in hill drills. There is an online app for “bingo, bango, bongo.” From Kaleb’s smartphone he can virtually race other cyclists up “bingo, bango, bongo.” He soon found himself just outside of the top-ten.

It was only during this time that he told me he wasn’t feeling well. In reality he had never felt well as I would soon come to discover.

He had some tests done. And waited.

Meanwhile 2020 passed and some months into 2021, with him balancing grade 12, volunteering at BCBC, and working part-time at a great locally owned cycling shop in our city called “Bruce’s Cycle Works.” He had more tests done. And waited some more.

During Easter break from school he worked full-time at Bruce’s Cycle Works. After working that Saturday he came over to my place. My apartment is located on the top floor of our building. He had cycled over but asked for me to carry his Olmo bicycle up the four flights of stairs. By the time we got to my door Kaleb looked like an ill old man. It was at this time that I discovered from him that he had felt like this much of the time we had cycled but he had just forced himself. He never backs down from a challenge. It’s part of his value system.

The following Monday he had a CT scan and Wednesday of that week he learned of the results. He was informed that he had a large hole in his heart and had been born this way. Unbelievably concerning news. Especially when I think of how hard he pushed himself at all times and the fact that he was able to accomplish so much in his cycling while in this condition. I am thankful he did not have some type of medical emergency under these circumstances knowing what I know now.

Kaleb Whittingstall has to have open heart surgery. It’s certainly not for his mental heart and spirit. It’s for the physical part. To ensure he can continue to bless our world and anyone who meets him, with his thought-provoking, invigorating, and inspiring soul. The spirit, compassion and commitment from this young man’s heart could never be questioned.

Kaleb is always engaged, entirely immersed, and invested in life itself. I don’t know of a single time that he hasn’t been. Those tremendously joyous hours shared out on the highway with him were spent listening to him speak about his environmental concerns, composting and waste management. About what we place in our bodies. He was also challenging me. Now every time I turn on a faucet or anything else that involves the use of our resources I’m thinking of reducing my consumption for the betterment of both myself and our planet. This all stems from listening to someone who places his whole heart into the betterment of humankind.

The truth is there is a greater race happening right now and it affects us all. It’s about saving our planet. The time is here. This very moment. This is the challenge that we all must face.

We have to open up our hearts like Kaleb Whittingstall has shown me and all others who encounter him. We have to commit to making our own energy drinks and not buying single-use plastic products as one example. Of being committed to our own lives for the betterment of all. He shows us that all the information is readily available.

Anything new may seem impossible until someone does it.

Once upon a time, the four-minute mile seemed as elusive as the two-hour marathon barrier is now. Particularly for a teenager. When Lukas Verzbicas accomplished the feat in 2011, he was only the fifth high school athlete to go sub-four since Jim Ryun first did it in 1965. Now, including Brown, five high schoolers have done it since 2015. (This is all the more astounding when you consider that not a single high schooler managed to break four from 1967 to 2001.)

Today, we shouldn’t think of the impossible but rather, think of the possible and then go out and do it. It may take a lot of work and time … but it is possible. Even better yet, it’s worth it, for our future generations will all benefit.

Kaleb Whittingstall showed me more of what is possible. Shifting our paradigms towards a sustainable development. The movement towards sustainability is a continuation of the ‘greening’ shift. A development so there is an earth for future cyclists and all human beings.

Sand to sand. Face to face. Heart to heart. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

We can each be a hero during our own existence. We can each be a hero for our planet.

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