THE COMEBACK KID
Donald Gene Dotzauer (pronounced dot-sour) is all about second chances: giving them, recognizing them, embracing them AND seeking them.
As Co-Captain of the Key West Mile Markers for The Smart Ride 14 (TSR), shared with Karen Frank-Noll, Donald had assimilated quickly into the island’s paradigm of caretaking and caregiving, but he had stellar experience. As a single gay man, he’d taken on the full parenting of a close relative’s children due to negligence issues — three girls and boy ranging from ages five to one, near St. Louis, Missouri.
It meant putting some personal dreams on the back-burner for a greater good and vacations were family-oriented, but Key West had been on his radar since he’d visited at 21. Professional success as a Price Waterhouse accountant, then Senior Partner at the firm he started, Dotzauer Runde Leicht & Bushur, L.L.P. (tax and business consulting, with a specialization in physicians), meant freedom to rent for a month at a time and, ultimately, buying an Old Town home in August 2012.
March 2014 brought dramatic change: “my heart tripped out” at such an alarmingly elevated rate he was rushed to intensive care in Miami at 3 a.m.
The challenges had only started. A mass found by doctors in his chest, although ultimately benign, and the abrupt end of an 8-year relationship was a perfect storm that reset priorities. Riding a mountain bike 30 miles a day became both physical and emotional therapy and so began Act II.
“After going through all of that, I swore to let nothing bother me again,” he shrugs.
Still, he didn’t know quite what he was nodding yes to at a hot August 2015 Sunday Tea Dance at LaTeDa recruiting riders, but it sounded good: a chance to recapture some of the spirit he’d enjoyed as a Notre Dame graduate and an avid gay softball player in 90’s.
After a few drinks, Donald recalls, he’d even gone further, committing that he’d raise $5,000 by November.
“I was a numbers guy, but actually asking people for money was something new.”
Ultimately, he raised $6,000.
His personal goal for 2017 is $10,000…for the Mile Markers, $75,000…and to remain atop the running dollars-raised total of other statewide teams. It was a proud day when a TSR website update showed the Mile Markers edging ahead of the Tampa Bay Area Cyclists by one dollar, demonstrating how a single dollar can make a difference…yet, by week’s end, the gap had widened, with the Mile Markers in a $1300 lead.
“I’ve probably personally clocked 12,000 miles on US1, yet you always to have remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Don’s quick with a joke and an anecdote, but his voice cracks when the topic turns to those taken too soon. “I lost some of my closest friends. It’s still very hard to talk about.” One who especially haunts him is a high school Physics teacher outed in 1996 within his district. Stripped of professional dignity and robbed of stamina, he lost his battle with AIDS very quickly. “When I ride and I see his face, it can sometimes get very emotional.”
It’s such a common refrain when speaking of the Key West Mile Markers that he ought to have #teamwork as a tattoo somewhere. His favorite quote, according to FACEBOOK, is “it’s not over until the fat lady sings”, just as relevant to TSR 14. At 59, the oldest male Mile Marker biker, Donald keeps his eye on the horizon and hopes that a good tail-wind will show him what Act III will bring.
“Other than it being a tough time in America to have the name Donald, today was one of my perfect, single, dumped-guy days,” he recounts. “Some office work, spinning at noon, this interview, laundry and yard chores, walk the dog a couple of times, then happy hour with my best friends,” many of them Mile Markers.
For now, his other passion is recruiting a diverse corps of TSR 14 riders. He offers with a rueful laugh, “Well, I have to direct it somewhere! I don’t have a boyfriend. You know what they say about dating in Key West: it’s like Old Town parking…either taken or you need a special sticker.”
THE DYNAMIC DUO: Karen and Jerry
Teamwork is what, ultimately, provides the energy behind the annual SMART Ride effort.
Few exemplify it better than Karen Frank-Noll, 62, and Jerry Hughes, 70, life partners and now over 10 years strong in empowering TSR from Miami to Key West.
There are no awkward pauses when you talk to Karen and Jerry. Enthusiasm precedes every anecdote, careful consideration underscores every point they want to make. They quietly defer to the other’s narrative, yet often finish one another’s sentences.
Karen first joined The SMART Ride in 2006, when she joined AIDS Help, Monroe County’s first, and still only, ASO and a beneficiary from the very first SMART Ride.
A co-worker asked if she might interested. Karen’s immediate “Of course!” was followed by a tentative “so what is it?”
“I didn’t even have a bike at that time,” she recalls, laughing. “I knew not one participant. I walked into a room of complete strangers…plus I had to raise $1,250 to participate as a rider.”
It wasn’t the 165-mile trek from Miami to Key West that was most daunting to her; it was asking for money from friends and family. Now it’s the easiest. “I never counted on that people would understand the importance and open their checkbook, but when you ask with passion, people embrace it.”
She helmeted up, “prepared harder than I probably ever have since” and, by journey’s end, “I was hooked.”
Karen’s not boastful, so it’s Jerry who speaks with pride of her subsequent participation in three rides within the same calendar year: a 350-mile ride in Wisconsin, a 7-day, 545- mile fundraiser from San Francisco to Los Angeles and TSR.
Jerry, as witness to Karen’s commitment in 2006, joined the effort in 2007 as part of a Sweep Team – vans that follow the course and provide transport in the event of injury, mechanical problem or exhaustion, to the next pit stop or to the finish line. Personal experience with HIV/AIDS also lent a personal reason: Jerry’s youngest brother died from the disease in 1992 after a 1989 diagnosis.
“This is my way, every year, of honoring Christopher and helping others living with HIV/AIDS,” Jerry states. “It’s both moving and motivating.”
A more detailed video recap of Jerry’s recollections of his brother can be seen at https://youtu.be/WofIhPJ3SoQ.
Jerry’s involvement evolved in 2016, shifting into a broader transport: Keys riders to and from home. He’s seen personal frustration and weather-related snafus…and he’s also seen perseverance.
“The goal is 100 miles that first day, and I watched a fellow with a flat tire determined to make it to Hawk’s Kay on his own,” Jerry recalls. “And he did.”
Independence has been folded into the collective over the passage of time. The formation of teams like that of the Mile Markers is encouraged by TSR. It’s an esprit de corps that spills over into fishing expeditions and Sunday practice runs to Baby’s Coffee.
For 2017, Karen serves as co-captain of the Lower Keys’ Mile Markers team with Donald Gene Dotzauer (the team’s top fundraiser for the last two years, raising $12,415 of the team’s combined $105,585).
“Many first-timers come aboard as a kind of a Bucket List thing, their own physical challenge. We had a 70 year-old join last year,” Karen states. “When we’re assembled to reflect at the Edward B. Knight Pier (formerly known as White Street Pier), it’s very emotional. It’s no longer a race to them. It’s a ride for a cause.”
“And that 70 year-old woman is returning this year,” Jerry adds.
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More about The SMART Ride can be found at http://www.TheSMARTRide.org.
The Mile Markers’ Facebook page can be found at https://tinyurl.com/MileMarkersFB