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Posted In: Features, Road Biking

What the World(s) Needs Now

Nicole Anderson Ellis

October 12, 2015 1:19pm
The UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond made fans out of these St. Catherine's students. Credit: WTVR

The UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond made fans out of these St. Catherine’s students. Credit: WTVR

I am not a race fan. At least I wasn’t. The truth is, I had no idea what to expect from UCI 2015. Traffic, of course. And crowds. But I never dreamed I’d get a chance to travel back in time.

It’s mid-semester at VCU, which, for me, means one-on-one conferences with sleep-deprived first-year students. How’re classes? I ask. How’s your stress level? And how do you manage that stress? This last question usually brings blank stares, which I answer with a list of healthy ways to unburden ourselves – however briefly – from life’s inevitable strain: physical exercise, being in nature, listening to music, time with friends.

Late one afternoon, weary and over-talked, I sat down with an international student – a mechanical engineer – who told me he coped with stress by working more. That’s great, I said. Very responsible. But you also have to rest. Walk by the river. Paint a picture. Play a board game. Lock your dorm room door and dance, I suggested, now thoroughly off-script. When we do the things we loved as children, we feel like kids again ourselves.

Thinking of his child-self – a decade back and half-a-world away – he nodded, slowly. Then he smiled.

All the news I heard leading up to The Worlds – the presentations on tourism spending, the blown-up maps of street closings and emergency routes – focused wholly on the adult sphere. So, until the races actually started, I didn’t understand that Richmond was hosting an international city-wide Field Day.

Libby Hill had plenty of cowbell during the men's elite road race last month. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Libby Hill had plenty of cowbell during the men’s elite road race last month. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Remember the feeling of being at school but not IN school? The blissful chaos. The games. The din. The Worlds brought that all back (at least in the East End; I didn’t even try to cross town). For three days all the rules changed. We walked down the middle of Main Street. We rang cow bells, and screamed at the top of our lungs. Children chased used water bottles as if they were treasure. And everyone was friends.

To me, the most elusive, enviable magic of childhood is that friendship requires nothing more than a mutual desire to have fun. Prejudice, in all its many forms, requires ideas on which to pre-judge, and children lack the burden of that experience. They don’t approach would-be playmates with a survey: How do you feel about expanded Obamacare? Gun control? Mandated gas mileage? Little kids — God bless them — actually don’t see color. They don’t care what neighborhood you call home or what language you speak. Children can walk up to each other on the playground and vet new companions with one question: Do you want to play?

Fans captured a memory of the start of the men's road race at the University of Richmond. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Fans captured a memory of the start of the men’s road race at the University of Richmond. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Watching The Worlds made all of us children. For days, crowded together in the sometimes rain, we forgot our differences, set down our worries, and played like kids. There’s lots of data on what that gained us. I don’t mean the figures on visitors and generated income. I mean studies on the healing benefits of physical activity, and being outdoors, and time with old and brand-new friends. But the kid in me doesn’t need more proof than I got.

That felt great, Richmond. Thank you. Let’s take advantage of every occasion to come together, in the out-of-doors, and forget our stress. Because the answer to the question is obvious: Hell yes, we want to play!

About Nicole Anderson Ellis

Nicole Anderson Ellis teaches critical thinking, critical writing and argumentation at VCU. She’s also co-chairwoman of the Route 5 Corridor Coalition, a director on the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District Board and a resident of Henrico’s Varina District.