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