Moments of Glee

During the day I am a professor of mechanical engineering at a small school in upstate New York. One of the things I do when I teach a class is ask my students to send me an email telling why they picked whatever flavor of engineering they did. The answers are usually pretty predictable. “Good with math and science”, “want to know how things work”, “I want to drive a train” (No not really, in fact I tell them specifically that if this is their reason, please make something else up). Every now and then I get something more personal.

I believe that turn about is fair play so at the beginning of the second class I tell them about me, and why I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. This by the way is the reason I am a mechanical engineer who studies fluid dynamics.

That boat and that moment are the reason I started down my professional path. A prize (mostly I will allow you to gloat) goes to the person who can correctly identify the boat and why this picture is historically significant.

But you know that picture really doesn’t have the umph that captures the attention of my students (also it happened over a decade before they were born, which makes me feel old). I needed something else. I had a number of students in my class this year who said they raced bikes and wanted to do something bike related for a career. So this year when I was telling them about me I told them that I bike, a lot. Then I dropped the bomb…..

“I am signed up to race in Leadville next summer.” There was an audible “Wow” from the class. (Gotcha!) Clearly some of them had heard of this race. Now I had their attention.

I am going to confess something. I have moments of glee at times like this. The glee comes from surprising you because you did not expect something like that from someone like me. It makes me smile inside (sometimes I hear the bike cackling voice).

Here think about this. One of your good friends comes up to you on a Monday morning and says:

“Guess what I did this weekend?”

“Cleaned the garage?”

“Nope, I rode on a luge.” (Your friend says this casually for max effect.)

“Luge? That’s insane! BTW. Which one is that?”

“Feet first.”

“You mean the one where you cannot see anything?”

“Yup.”

“Wow” (And now your friend is experiencing the moment of glee)

My best moment of glee was this summer when I was in Lake Placid talking with the Luge coaches about the work I am doing for them. They knew I had done a bike race in Lake Placid in June and asked how it went. Good I said. I qualified for a race next summer. 100 miles, at 10,000 ft with 12,000 ft of total climbing. Stunned silence. I had stunned three former Olympic Athletes (two of which had won Olympic medals, all three of which are very cool people) with something I did that was athletic.

Not bad for the grown up version of a pudgy kid who was never good at sports. Yup. I had a moment of glee.

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