Five years ago, Mike Mercy was in a difficult situation. He was dating then-10-year-old Abby Youngwerth’s mother, Heather, and wanted to find a way to bond.
So the active-minded Mercy went on a “charm initiative” and bought Youngwerth her first road bike. Now 15, the Boise resident is one of the top young female riders in the country.
“He got me into it, got me into training, and my mom was always really supportive,” Youngwerth said.
Said Heather: “It turned out to be something all three of us had a passion for, and she definitely didn’t hate Mike much after that. He made you feel like a rock star.”
On Saturday, Mercy and Youngwerth will compete together in the Twilight Criterium’s women’s category 2-3-4 race in Downtown Boise, but their biggest cheerleader won’t be there to see it.
Mike and Heather married June 28, 2014, and a week later Mike could not keep up with Heather on a bike ride — an usual occasion for the long-time racer. After returning from their honeymoon, a cancerous tumor was found in his chest.
Mike passed away May 13. He was 49.
“His pain got so horrific, it was an awful, awful time, but we got to spend a lot of time together,” Mercy said. “Even when it came to the point where he couldn’t ride, he made sure we had the right equipment, made sure we kept going.”
In the final weeks of Mike’s life, Youngwerth was in the process of switching teams to Twenty16’s junior squad. Among the pros on Twenty16’s team is two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, whom Youngwerth got to ride with Thursday.
“It was a tough decision, but he really coached me through it. It meant a lot to me, and it’s something I’ll always remember about him,’’ Youngwerth said.
Youngwerth finished in the top four in three events June 24-28 at the USA Cycling Amateur Road Nationals in Truckee, Calif., including second in the criterium. In the past, she and her mother sometimes had to compete against one another, but with Mercy riding for a sister team to Twenty16, they get to finally work together. It will be the second Twilight Criterium for Mercy and the fourth for Youngwerth.
“It’s pretty awesome — before, we couldn’t talk strategy or anything like that to each other, so this will be fun,” Youngwerth said.
Mercy said she was always active, but never much into cycling before she dated Mike. She was always watching his races, also getting her own road bike, and one day he told her she was registered.
Though she competed in dozens of races in 2012-14, for obvious reasons it hasn’t been a priority for Mercy the past year without her training partner. But her fellow cyclists, including teammate Sarah Barber, have kept her involved, even taking part in Mike’s favorite race, the Lyle Pearson 200 from Boise to Sun Valley, a week after his memorial.
“To me, it goes back to Mike, the cycling community we got to know is one of the reasons I’m OK right now,” Mercy said. “They’ve taken care of me since he died, and even when he was sick, they were bringing dinners.”
Even with racing a little less of a part of her life, Mercy still wanted to be on the bike, and the chance to ride with her daughter wasn’t one to be passed up. And in a way, she still can connect with her husband, the one who provided the gear and the inspiration for a big part of their lives.
“It’s a huge emotion, knowing that he would be so happy to see us out there,” Mercy said. “It feels like he’s with me, encouraging me still. ... It’s easy to think of him out there, he gave me everything I have.”