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Interview: Dave Shields Author - Tour de Life
 
By Staff
Date: 10/18/2007
Interview: Dave Shields Author - Tour de Life
 

Interview: Dave Shields Author of Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition
A conversation with Dave Shields co-author of the Saul Raisin biography, and cycling novels: The Race & The Tour. Saul’s primary goal, which he has stated over and over, is to inspire people who are facing major challenges never to give up. I think he’s succeeding. He’s definitely inspired me.

By Brian Grenier

Dave’s books deliver a unique mix of real life characters and complex emotions drawing the reader into every page. With the release of Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition, Dave’s place as a writer who can deliver a gut wrenching real life drama is solidified!

Mention the name Dave Shields in just about any cycling venue and if Dave isn’t there physically, folks have heard of him. He has had frequent analyst appearances on CNN, Fox News Channel, and Sporting News Radio. Shields has also appeared in media outlets like ESPN, ESPN Radio, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Westwood One Radio, USA Radio Network, Voice of America, on network television affiliates around the country, and in countless print publications. Without knowing the guy, one would surmise that he is some sort of overnight sensation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bring up the term “overnight success” and you just might get a chuckle out of Dave. The road has been long and arduous but it is one that Dave Shields embarked upon of his own free will, coupled with an unrelenting drive to succeed. Dave’s books deliver a unique mix of real life characters and complex emotions drawing the reader into every page. With the release of Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition, Dave’s place as a writer that can deliver a gut wrenching real life drama has been solidified!

I met Dave once at the Raisin Hope ride in early 2007, but the encounter had been brief; a hand shake, a picture and I was off! Throughout the year I read Dave’s third book, The Tour, with utter amazement at his ability to tackle one of professional sports’ most pressing problems…the use of illicit performance enhancement. Succinctly written, Dave brings you along on a perilous journey that explains how an every day athlete can succumb to pressure to perform at the highest levels and turn to the use of performance enhancements. In the end the reader is left thinking, “ah-ha”.

Who is Dave Shields?
Dave Shields is a long time Utah resident who grew up in the mountainous state where he still makes his home with his wife Elle and their children Carly, Lauren and Sabrina. While Dave moved around a good bit in his early life, he always found himself drawn back to Utah where the skiing, cycling and great outdoors are awesome! Some of Dave’s pastimes are skiing and hockey, even though rumors have it that he hasn’t been to the rink lately!


Shields has now authored 4 books: The Pendulum’s Path; cycling novel The Race; and the sequel The Tour and the highly acclaimed new release Saul Raisin Biography Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition. Each one of these books is charged with Dave’s unique ability to bring his passion into written form. I wanted to find out just what makes this guy tick. I had a chance to chat with him in September during a long transit between stages 3 and 4 of the Tour of Missouri.

Brian Grenier: Dave, thanks for taking the time to talk with me for The Daily Peloton! I know you have been interviewed quite a bit recently, and I would like to come at this interview from a slightly different angle: Why don’t you explain to our readers what was your road to athletics and finally into cycling, what were the inner workings of that journey.

Dave Shields: I have always been involved in athletics one way or another growing up. I guess my journey into cycling started back in the Greg Lemond years when he was winning the Tour de France. I became a big fan of his. At that time a lot of my friends and I would participate in races here and there, but the direction I took was into triathlon. Eventually I got pretty good at that, and I started to win some races here and there, especially when the big dogs didn’t show up. I didn’t get to the elite level, but I carried the experiences of being in the lead of a race into my writing. I didn’t realize it, but I was doing research at the time.

Brian: So I would venture to guess you have been around the sport of cycling for a while now. In all your years, what have you found to be the essence of cycling?

Dave:  I would have to say that to me the essence of cycling falls into a few different groups that are sometimes diametrically opposed in their reasons for cycling. First, you have a group of cyclists that do the century events around the country, and they do it for the pure love of the sport. They are some of the greatest people that you will ever meet. I just did an MS 150 ride and the atmosphere there was just so incredibly positive! Then also in this first group you have the casual rider who rides for the health benefits and for the pure joy of riding, getting out on the weekends and lunch time when the weather is nice. These groups comprise the bulk of cyclist’s world wide, and it is where the growth of the sport and the industry will come from.

Then on the racing side, you have this incredible group of dedicated athletes that are out there every weekend racing at all levels. The training alone that is necessary to compete at the beginner level of cycling is astounding! These riders make up the competitive side. Racing looks so simple, but as you know it’s actually very complex. One of the goals I had for writing my books was to open up the sport and explain it in an easy to follow format in order to attract more fans.

B.G. - My understanding is that you came from the mortgage business and while there developed your initial ideas for your first book?

D.S. - Well, really I started out in the mortgage business years ago, and I left it and started working at the Park City Ski area in their marketing department. That was a fantastic job. I love to ski and I love marketing, so it was a perfect fit! The thing was, though, that job mostly paid in perks.

When I got married I knew that I would need to get a job that paid in cash. My wife has this thing for security. That’s when I went back into the mortgage business knowing full well it was something I didn’t enjoy, but it paid well. But the Park City job had set me off on a journey that I hadn’t realized. One of my duties, while there, was to write an employee newsletter. After a short while the newsletter really took off and started to be distributed all over town, which was great. This evolved into writing freelance articles, and things really took off. Along the way I started thinking that I could make a living writing. If I could write a novel and make enough money doing that. I couldn’t imagine a better life. To be real, though, it took years and years of writing novels before I began making enough money to leave my job and dedicate all my energies to writing and developing that career.

B.G. - I read that some of the first books you wrote were self-published. Is that right?

D.S. - Yes that is very true. Getting through the publishing maze requires a lot of effort, and in order to get books published a lot of authors take the self-publishing route. Let’s face it. From a marketing perspective, the most important words in any book are the author’s name. If you are not a big name author like John Grisham or Steven King then it is a huge task to get your work published.

That’s why marketing is so important. Before anyone will buy your book you need to get your name out there. I have been successful due to hard work and the blessing of having a marketing background. But self-publishing, that word “self” stands out, and many people assume it means that the product isn’t of high quality. I had to work the circuit and be at many races and events in order to get the book into enough people’s hands to build a reputation. My family had to make a lot of sacrifices.

B.G. - With that said, how is the family adjusting to the success, and what are the challenges?

D.S. - I am on the road a lot these days. Sometimes it can feel like a 24/7 job. But with every show and race I attend and every book I sell, I know that it is improving the quality of life for my family, and that drives me to continue. However it isn’t without cost. I sometimes joke that my kids don’t know what I look like anymore, and when I come home they ask for two forms of ID, you know! OK OK! I stretched that a little, but it is tough. It hurts when my five year old daughter asks, “Daddy, how come you’re never home?”


Dave and Wife Elle at the Tour of Georgia earlier this year.

For me it is made easier by the fact that I have a very supportive wife. Elle is awesome. Not only has she supported me in my quest to become an established author, but she juggles the responsibility of being a college professor, fantastic mother to our three children (all girls, by the way), and completely running the show when I am away. That’s what keeps me going. Every book I sell, every contact I make…it helps me return the investment my family is making in me, and it means that eventually I’ll be able to repay them for all this time gone.

B.G. - The new book is out, Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition. How did the book come about?

D.S. - Going back to July of last year, Saul contacted me. That was such an amazing day! I think anyone at that time who follows cycling knew about Saul Raisin and just how devastating his injuries were. Then, WOW! Here I was talking to the guy, getting to know him, and eventually being asked to write his story. It was amazing! Not only was it a great honor being asked to write the story, but it was also a fantastic opportunity. Saul is a very charismatic guy as well as a very talented athlete and cyclist. He is a guy that I firmly believe in, and I think he is going to do some great things


Saul Raisin celebrates his return to racing at the USA Pro Time Trial in September. Photo © www.benrossphotography.com

I believe that Saul will ultimately win races. Major races. If he doesn’t, though, his accomplishments to date are already incredible. When we first started talking with Saul about writing a book, I told him it would be a major undertaking and that it would only make sense if he won races races. Then in September of last year I went and met with Saul and his parents, and I heard the amazing stories of what he’s already overcome. Even among the extraordinary sub-set of pro cyclists, Saul is an incredible guy. I learned what his parents went through, and the challenges they faced with the injury taking place in France, half a world away from their home in Dalton GA…the challenges of culture, language and a foreign medical system.

When I arrived at their house I told them that in my mind this would be a great story and a great book if Saul could make it back to the professional level in the sport. Before dinner was over that night I knew that this story had to be told, and I told them that I wanted to be the author to help tell it.

B.G. – Dave, I have read the book and have found it to be awesome as well as inspiring. You have a unique ability to transfer emotions into the written word. I have to ask you though, as a writer I noticed that there was a lot of very personal stuff in the book, Tour de Life. How did you handle the relationships with the knowledge of such intimate details?

D.S. - Thank you for the compliment! The reason I write about what I do is because I am passionate about it, and I try to transfer that passion to the page. With Saul, one of the things that impressed me was his willingness to tell me everything that happened, the good stuff and the bad. The things that made him look like a hero and the things that didn’t shed such a positive light on him. The relationship was a no holds barred information flow. He laid it all out there and allowed me to tell the whole story.

Editors who helped me with the book early on were very uncomfortable with the level of honesty, and I went back to Saul and said, “Hey, some folks think we should leave this part out,” and he said, “NO WAY! Put everything in there. People have to know what a brain injury patient really goes through. This book is about inspiring people like me who have to face these problems, and that is real. There is NO WAY we are taking it out!”

Saul’s parents, Jim and Yvonne, were a huge part of the book. Obviously the first part of the book is written from their perspective. Saul was totally unaware of all that stuff that went on for the first month. It wasn’t until he read the book that he learned some of the things his parents went through. One thing that impressed me about Jim and Yvonne was not only how they handled the situation but they also acted as a firm check and balance as I wrote the book. They were firm in the fact that the story was the story and they didn’t want to overstate anything or embellish in any way. They were determined to make it completely real. They didn’t want to make themselves look better than they really were. I think that made it more meaningful.

B.G. – Dave, you have been around the sport for a good while now and have met some of the very best guys in the sport and have cheered along Armstrong. What do you feel is the “state” of cycling right now?

D.S. - My view is a lot more optimistic than many people right now. If you are only looking at the drug issues, I think it looks bleak, but most sports go through these sorts of things at one time or another. The drug problem was allowed to get out of hand and the sport is paying a price for it now. In some respects there was a written set of rules and an unwritten set of rules. Just like a "good ole boy network" to coin a phrase. I don’t think the problem in cycling has been any worse than it is in other sports, though. Just more public. Pro athletes are under tremendous pressures and some of them have made decisions that can be hard to understand from the outside.

In recent years cycling has taken an aggressive anti-doping stance. Granted, a lot of mistakes have been made along the way, but the good thing is that they have taken a consistent stance to drive drugs out of the sport. I am sensing that the pressures are changing within the sport from “do whatever you have to to win and we are just going to turn our heads,” to “you better not be doping on my team and get us thrown out, disqualified, disgrace our sponsor and so on.”

Look at what happened to Bradley Wiggins’s team. Here is a guy, to the best of my knowledge, a clean guy, and he can’t finish the Tour de France because some fool on his team didn’t get the memo that we are serious about stopping doping. This is what’s going on from the inside and creating the pressures to race clean or you are out of work. Some of the teams are now conducting internal testing with blood profiles and drug screening. So while it is the issue of the day, aggressive action is being taken to stop it. In the long run the sport will be improved.

I also see a lot of growth in the sport. At the Tour of Missouri for example the crowds exceeded everyone’s expectations. They were cheering on the athletes and they were also in the vendor area buying merchandise at a rapid rate! This is good from many standpoints. It creates income for those that are involved in cycling, but also it helps to draw sponsors into the sport. Let’s face it, this is a very unique sport. There is no gate fee, no ticket sales, people come and go as they please, and again I have to say at the ToM the crowds were enormous. Anybody sponsor who saw that would have to be pleased.

This is a beautiful sport, and it is sad that some people only see the drug issue. I really look forward to the days that we get beyond that. Simply put, we need to enforce the rules and not waver, and we will come out fine. Eventually the athletes won’t feel such one-sided pressure to step over that ethical boundary. That’s what I tried to present in my book, The Tour.

There is so much to the quest for personal performance. While that can play a part, the politics and external pressures from multiple angles all at once can change anyone if it is not handled right. I get a lot of e-mails these days concerning the drug issue. People tell me that The Tour helped them understand what’s going on at a much more personal level. Some of them even tell me that they believe they would cheat under similar circumstances.

By shining a light on these things I believe young athletes will be better prepared to make good decisions when faced with these questions. If they know what to expect they will be ready to handle it. I think this will create a whole generation of young athletes that see it for what it is, and stay away.

There are some teams in cycling that are stepping up to the plate and imposing internal longitudinal blood testing. That type of testing isn’t looking for any drug in particular. Instead it’s looking for abnormalities in the over-all blood readings. If one or another goes outside of normal paramaters, then they sit the athlete down and say, “Hey, what’s up?” I think that puts the responsibility right where it should be, and that is on the rider and the team.


Dave Shields and Saul Raisin. Photo courtesy Dave Shields

That is another thing that impressed me about Saul…he wanted to get tested. It is one of the reasons he re-signed with Credit Agricole, because he knew that they had testing. He knows that his team is clean.

B.G. – Dave, the book Tour de Life is out and you had a pre sale. Are things going well?

D.S. – Yes, things are going very well. Not only did we aggressively market it on the publisher’s web site and ours, but every Barnes & Noble ordered books and has them on their shelves. We have attracted major media attention with CNN and Inside Edition as well as some interest from major national talk shows. All this helps drive the books off the shelves. Saul’s story is compelling to people outside cycling, and that helps drive the exposure also.

The reviews are outstanding. They are coming in so positive. Of course we knew we would have a following within the cycling community, and Saul was and is very popular. But it is the whole story that gives this book a reach outside of cycling and will bring people into the sport.


Saul celebrates with fiancé Aleeza Zabriskie. Photo © www.benrossphotography.com

Then there’s the interest from within the brain injury community. The director of a major brain injury center told me it was the best review of a brain injury they have ever read, from a patient’s perspective. They’ve told me it should be required reading not only for the doctors, but for everyone who comes in contact with patients like Saul.

Saul’s primary goal, which he has stated over and over, is to inspire people who are facing major challenges never to give up. I think he’s succeeding. He’s definitely inspired me.

There you have it! I found Dave Shields to be a storehouse of knowledge, inspiration and honesty. He tells it like it is and delivers the message with brutal clarity. Dave has to be one of the most driven guys I have met. That drive and dedication is the underlying current of everything Dave does. Hard work, dedication and a bunch of passion equals success.

You can get Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition, and all of Dave’s books, at Dave Shields.com. Some autographed copies are available and will make an excellent Christmas gift.
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