The question haunted Scott Nydam ’99. In the winter of 2006, he was living in Colorado, working for a builder and entering amateur bike races.
“I spent a lot of years after college exploring what I wanted to do,” Nydam said. “I got into cycling just to find my ceiling, and I stayed in cycling because the ceiling kept going up—and because I loved it!”
That winter Nydam knew the time to take a risk had come. “I realized my mind was my own worst enemy,” he said. “I would chronically do certain things to give myself excuses. I wanted to know what would happen if I gave myself no excuses, if I gave it all I had.”
Nydam quit his job, moved out of his apartment and devoted himself to cycling. On the last day of his first big race, entered as an amateur, but riding in fourth place behind three well-known professionals, Nydam crashed and broke his collarbone—but not before being noticed by the director of Team BMC. “It took Gavin Chilcott telling me I was pro cycling material for me to believe it,” Nydam said. “When he gave me a professional contract, a wave came over me. I finally trusted myself.”
Thirty years old and a newcomer, Nydam surprised the veterans in April 2007 at the Tour de Georgia, one of the country’s top professional races, by finishing sixth overall.
But Nydam’s second pro season had a decidedly discouraging start. In the Middle East with his BMC teammates for the Tour of Qatar, Nydam crashed on day two and was taken to the hospital. That was the day he found out his father, Calvin Seminary professor Ron Nydam, had been diagnosed with leukemia.
A month later, on Feb. 18, still wearing open wounds, he was at the starting line of the premier cycling event in the United States: the seven-day Amgen Tour of California. On a category-three climb during the first stage of the race, Nydam dropped well behind the pack. “I realized that the crash in Qatar and the shock of my dad’s illness had taken its toll on me,” he said. “I woke up on the morning of stage two knowing I’d dug myself in a hole. I had nothing to lose. And I wanted to fight like my dad was fighting.”
Nydam broke away from the field and held the lead for 97 of the stage’s 116 miles, a lead that grew to as much as 15 minutes, to win the day’s “most aggressive rider” jersey. “Particularly gutsy performances,” according to Cycling News, on following days won Nydam the “King of the Mountains” jersey for the race as a whole.
Media outlets publicizing Nydam’s accomplishment picked up the story of the bonded father and son, and noted, too, that Amgen, the race’s sponsor, makes the drugs being used to treat Ron Nydam.
It’s taken Nydam a while to be able to call cycling his vocation. “I used to say that I could walk away from it if my higher calling arrived,” he said. “I think that I’ve finally discovered that it’s OK to love what you love. Because the spirit of God really is holding us.”
To follow Scott Nydam’s racing season, see his blog.
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