Guerin Emig: Commiseration replaces Cry Baby Hill as centerpiece of different-feeling Saint Francis Tulsa Tough | Local


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The Saint Francis Tulsa Tough, for 15 years synonymous with the revelry along Cry Baby Hill, strikes a lower tone this weekend. The Hill’s River Parks Criterium shouldn’t even be Sunday’s signature event.

That honor this year belongs to the Williams Townie, the 6-mile ride beginning at Galveston Avenue and Riverside Drive at 2:15 p.m.

That’s the annual ride that invites men, women, girls and boys from all corners and cultures of our city to come together and feel good.

That’s the ride, this year, where participants are encouraged to wear pink to honor the victims of last week’s shooting on the campus of Saint Francis Health System.

The Townie feels more therapeutic than ever this year, much like the three-day cycling festival that surrounds it.

“I hope so,” Saint Francis Tulsa Tough executive director Malcolm McCollam told the Tulsa World. “That’s the message we keep getting from people.”

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It was messages, actually, that prompted McCollam and his team to proceed with the Tough as shock and despair set in last Wednesday evening.

He was in his office when news of the Saint Francis shooting broke. He was reviewing remarks he had prepared for the next morning’s press conference at the hospital alongside Saint Francis Health System CEO Dr. Cliff Robertson.

“We were all full of enthusiasm and energy and excitement about this thing,” McCollam told the Tulsa World. “And then… It’s just that.. I mean…”

McCollam was still grasping for words last Thursday morning at a Tough team meeting.

“The starting point, I was still with my head in my hands just shaking my head,” he said. “I didn’t feel like talking about a cycling event. I didn’t feel like talking about any of this stuff at all. It didn’t seem to matter at that time. It just didn’t seem to matter.”

McCollam had received several condolences the night of the shooting from Tulsans and out-of-towners, from cyclists and non-cyclists. Their words centered on empathy and resilience.

“Here’s one from a woman who isn’t even a cyclist,” McCollam shared with the World. “‘We need hope and optimism. Let’s get together because the love of the sport of cycling is the opposite of hate and killing. Help us get past this in a healthy way.

“‘We can’t do much about the craziness in the world, but we can gather and show love for each other.’”

“Then there was a message from a guy in Georgia that I didn’t even know,” McCollam said. “I included that in my letter.”

McCollam framed his June 3 “A Source of Light and Love” essay around something Thomas Patterson from Columbus, Georgia, had written:

“This year for my eighth time I will be in town for the race, but on Friday night before Blue Dome starts, it will feel different. That weekend will be the first big event for your city after this shooting. It will hopefully be the event that allows the city to collectively exhale and remember that one single day does not define the spirit of a city.

“Saint Francis Tulsa Tough, not just a bicycle race weekend, but the heartbeat of your city.”

The more McCollam addressed what the Tough meant, and discovered how much it could help, the easier it was to shake some of the despair.

“We sat there like, ‘We gotta go. We have to do this,’” he said of the morning-after meeting. “So we made a plan.”

The centerpiece of which would be to honor the shooting victims at the free-to-ride Townie, since it was the Tough’s most inclusive activity, and most representative of the community.

This isn’t to say there won’t be grief at the criteriums Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or at the fondos Saturday and Sunday mornings. You can’t start a bicycle race and make this kind of pain just vanish.

“It comes and goes for me,” McCollam said. “We’re in the middle of the nuts and bolts of making this happen, but there are quieter times that you sit back and think, and it hits you all over again.”

That goes for all of us. What we seek in response is commiseration and togetherness.

Sometimes that’s more important than a good time on a famous hill. So it will be at the 16th Saint Francis Tulsa Tough.