Only the strong survive
Anyone from the Bronx, NY and her surrounding boroughs will be able to tell you that “only the strong survive.” It’s a slogan that has been widely plastered onto cheap souvenirs sold to tourists and copied by others worldwide. But for people from the Bronx, people like Brian, the message holds a meaning that neither you nor I could ever comprehend.
Brian is a man of discipline. He believes fundamentally in honesty, in loyalty and integrity – characteristics which of late seem harder and harder to find – which is not surprising, given his background.
He’s a Bronx boy, born and bred. His mother (from Clare) and father (Cork) arrived in New York before Brian was born in search of a better future for their family-to-be. 1970s Bronx was tough. Education was expensive – too expensive for most – and work was hard to secure. He went to a local Catholic school and although hailed for his intelligence and ability at a young age, post-school opportunities were limited.
So Brian looked at what he had: a smart mind, his family and his values. He believed in doing the right thing and aspired to do something worthwhile. At the age of 17, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. The Corps operates on honesty and integrity, so it didn’t take long for Brian to find a home amongst his brothers in arms. He spent five long years with the Marines, with tours in an extremely volatile 1980s Lebanon, the brief but bloody Operation Urgent Fury in the Caribbean island of Grenada and faced extreme conditions during services across the Arctic Circle. It is fair to say that Brian experienced things during those five years the the majority of us would struggle to even imagine, but that’s not surprising given his determination and initiative.
His time with the Marines came to an end, but not his service within the line of duty. Brian traded in his combat boots and M16 for a uniform and a badge, fulfilling his childhood dream of joining the New York Police Department. The discipline Brian had developed during his time overseas combined accordingly with his understanding of responsibility, all of which he portrayed during his time on the beat. His effort and ability was noticed and over time Brian operated across a range of areas including the homicide and narcotics divisions.
But where within this thrilling roller coaster of a life did cycling come in? Brian’s career required a demanding level of commitment on all fronts, but a certain fitness threshold was vital. From a young age he maintained this through the most popular means of fitness there is: running. Buying a bicycle in his 20s was neither economical nor practical for Brian, so he made due with his trainers and the sidewalk. Brian was a hardcore runner who also played handball in his spare time, but that all changed in his 30s when a friend introduced him to the world of triathlon. Brian did a bit of research, invested in a bike and began a new chapter from there. Once he started cycling he never looked back. It opened up not only a new way to keep fit, but the bike became a way for Brian to reflect on his life to date.
Cycling is a journey, that we can all agree on. But cycling for Brian has been a means to understand his journey. “Life,” says Brian, “is a journey filled with obstacles. The difference is how you negotiate them.”
Any cyclist can understand that statement. Whether you’re getting ready for a sprint finish at the end of a five hour race in subzero conditions, or whether you’re pushing your body for more as you eye up the peak of a seemingly impossible climb. That’s why Brian settled on his FiftyOne and christened it ‘Semper Fi’ (always loyal). Loyalty is a virtue beyond all for Brian, whether the loyalty is to your country, your family or to yourself.
Brian’s strength and determination to persevere can be traced back to his parents’ willingness to pursue a better life in America and the struggles which they overcame. Although he has spent the majority of his life stateside, Brian’s Irish pride is a matter of certainty. The chance to make a bike something that was truly his allowed Brian to truly understand himself. He lived a life that very few of us could handle and this bike serves as a canvas for that very life. “You don’t really notice what’s happening when you’re in it.”
He continued to serve many years with the NYPD and later took his career to a federal level when he joined the FBI and the DEA. Although retired now, Brian is still the man he’s always been. He lives by a code that is becoming increasingly sparse. He still believes firmly in the value of honour, family, integrity and honesty. The bike is truly his own, he made it that way. It will carry his story with him for the rest of time as a monument of strength. After all, the roots of this bike can be found in the Bronx. And in the Bronx, only the strong survive.