Dirty Kanza champions are of a piece. They are gritty, tenacious and down to earth. There’s something in Dirty Kanza that weeds out all but the stoic. And for reasons that I can see and appreciate but can’t quite explain, the residents of Emporia adopt the winners as their own. Take 2015 winner Yuri Hauswald. His is a household name in Emporia. They can’t tell you who Fabian Cancellara is, but they know Yuri Hauswald. People greet him on the street.

Following his win in ’15, Salsa made a short film called, “I Ride for Her.” The only way to get through it without tears is with the aid of a coma. It’s less a promo piece for Salsa than an homage to what it takes to finish Dirty Kanza. In it, Hauswald talks about his wife Vanessa’s fight with Stage 4 colon cancer and how she surprised him by flying out to see the race. Her inspiration to him is where the film derives its title.

One of the many people who saw that film and took its inspiration to heart was Matt Makarwicz, above. There was something in his demeanor that spoke of personal victory as he came down the finisher’s chute. I couldn’t not take his photograph.

A short time later Yuri rolled across the line.

Given all the cheers he received, he might as well have won again.

After snapping the image above I ran back to the finisher’s area to grab some more shots.

That’s Jim Cummins giving Yuri a big bear hug. When I asked Jim where the tradition of greeting all the finishers, he told me, “It just seemed the right thing to do.” How can you argue with that?”

Moments later I caught this tender moment. Yuri told me that Matt walked up to him in 2016, in tears, and told him of his daughter Elizabeth’s fight with Leukemia. Through tears, he poured his story out to a complete stranger.

This year, Matt and Elizabeth were waiting for Yuri at the finish. She is now in remission. After grabbing these I ducked out to let them have their time. Both Yuri and Matt had wiped their eyes, and while I didn’t know what the back story was, I wanted to give them some space.

Of the encounter Yuri later told me, “I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about the encounter. Has to be one of the most powerful race finishes I’ve had in my career. Truly honored to think that I inspire folks like this, almost overwhelming, but it reinforces the power that the bicycle can have on our lives.”

Check out “I Ride for Her.” I bet there’s someone you ride for.

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