Sharing Her Grandpa’s Love of RAGBRAI
Every so often I receive an e-mail that really hits home. It came from a young lady who just lost her Grandpa after battling cancer and Alzheimer’s for years. She wanted to share her memories of the times she spend with her Grandpa and his love for RAGBRAI. I often say that RAGBRAI is more than just a silly old bike ride… that is certainly true for the Nelson Family.
I rode my first RAGBRAI when I was 17 and last year was my 10th. Since I was little, my family has participated in RAGBRAI. Everyone from my uncles, aunts, cousins, and parents have all joined together in July to ride across our home state, and none of it would have ever come to be without my Grandpa, Dave Nelson. My Grandpa was the first in our family to bring up RAGBRAI and he got my dad and step mom to go with him nearly 19 years ago on their first trip across Iowa. After that the tradition of RAGBRAI began, and when I was old enough, I joined our team too. We are Norwegian, so our team is naturally called Team Uffda in honor of our heritage.
Not many kids are so lucky to spend time with their grandparents, let alone ride their bikes across a state with them…..several times, but I am fortunate enough to say that I rode next to my grandfather as we crossed the fields of Iowa, and ate our fair share of rhubarb pie too. I remember him once saying to me as we chugged up one of the route’s long hills on my first RAGBRAI, “Just spin. As long as we’re pedaling, we’re moving forward.” He wasn’t the fastest guy out on the road, but by golly, Grandpa pedaled every last mile clear up until he turned 79 years old. I am so very thankful for those RAGBRAI memories with my Grandpa.
On Wednesday, April 18th, my Grandpa passed away. He had cancer and also suffered from Alzheimer’s, and after 5 years of fighting, it was time for him to done with that battle. Even in the last few months of his life, my Grandpa’s fondest memories that he shared were so often those memories from RAGBRAI. And even when he couldn’t remember what he had done an hour before, he could still remember specific details about most of the pass through towns in Iowa that he’d even gone through. When he could no longer speak well, all it would take to see him light up and maybe get a couple words out would be the mention of RAGBRAI or pie. He simply loved RAGBRAI with all his heart.
This year, in honor of my Grandpa, my family is of course, riding RAGBRAI, but we will each also take turns riding my Grandpa’s bike across Iowa once more. Since speed and weight weren’t much of a concern to Grandpa, we do not plan to make any alternations to his bike, such as remove the radio mounted on the handle bars or the giant pack over his rear tire (with three air pumps in it because everyone knows that two simply isn’t enough lol). We will ride Grandpa’s bike just as he would have and dip his tire in the Mississippi when we get to the other side.
My sharing the story of my Grandpa Nelson with you isn’t to get you to print anything in the paper, but I was hoping that in some way you might be able to help share my Grandpa’s love of this ride with others. As you might guess, my family is still trying to cope with the loss of my Grandpa, and all I can think to do right now is to honor him in whatever way I can, and sharing his story with you and the RAGBRAI community is one of those ways. I don’t know if you would be willing to post something on the website about him, in which case I’d be happy to email more photos, but in case you were needing an idea of something for the RAGBRAI page, I just wanted to put that out there.
My family appreciates greatly all you and everyone else who organizes this wonderful event every year do to make RAGBRAI great.
Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I have attached pictures of my Grandpa and one of our team for you.
David Nelson was originally from the Lake Mills area, then moved to Storm Lake where he was a funeral director for over 50 years. He and his wife moved to their vacation home in Spirit Lake upon retirement. At the visitation, Grandpa’s Team Uffda jersey and his bike were on display.
The Nelson Family is hoping to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease by sharing their grandpa’s story. It is a disease that dismantles and kills thousands every year and they hope to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research. They plan to have a sign on the back of grandpa’s bike to let you know how you can help support the cause.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nelson Family.
T.J. Juskiewicz, RAGBRAI Director