The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

A Day for Jesse (Day Seventy)

The game was dominated by a single player, though it’s clearly a team game. On this day, though, he was not to be stopped. He scored several tries, and even when his opponents tackled him – harder and harder throughout the day – he just kept smiling. He seemed to be a free spirited, lively sort, and he was showing a charismatic gait, even with his frustrated opponents trying to bring him down. In fact, he was often heard to be humming a familiar song. Finally, as he scored the winning points just before time expired, he sang the song out loud. It was a song called ‘Three Little Birds’.

It was Day Seventy, and Jesse Williams was dominating his rugby match in heaven.

That’s the only explanation that I can find for the day’s events; I’m told that Jesse loved the game of rugby, and this pleasant day was a mark of everything that I understand for him to be about. So, I figure that he was enjoying himself in the afterlife and sharing it with us. Thanks Jesse! Good lookin’ out!

We rode under a sky that was quilted with soft puffy clouds; they were sparse and non-threatening. Peaceful in nature, they were there to show contentment in the air and allow us to be trouble-free. They sang to us, ‘every little thing…gonna be all right..’. The weather was perfect; it would creep into the high eighties, but it’s breeze was just enough to make for a refreshing ride through the proud Virginian backroads. The streets were alive with an inordinate amount of flags; mainly Old Glory, but also a few Virginia State flags and I actually didn’t see any Confederate flags on Day Seventy. Between neighborhoods, we passed through forested stretches that smelled fresh yet showed just the slightest glimpse of the upcoming fall season, as in places our wheels blew fallen leaves to the side softly and without sound. These yellow leaves were not yet crisp, so they were mute and told a tale of times to come.

It had been a good few days since we’d had any inspirational bird sighthings; throughout this trip, I’ve had a growing fascination with large birds of prey. Ever since seeing one of them swoop down and grab a large rodent in Nevada, I’ve been hooked. But (sigh) now we’re on the East Coast and there will be no more signs of the wildly vivid phenomenon. Right? Not really. Twice, our day was punctuated with interactions. The first happened as we were clipping along through a sunny stretch, and it was probably about halfway through our day. It would be our closest encounter with one of these magnificent creatures. While it was a forested section, we were not in a canopy of any kind; the trees were peeled back to show the sky’s full features. From the right side of the road, though, an enormous hawk rose powerfully from her perch, which was a branch just below eye-level. She rose at a soft angle and was moving out and away, yet slowly. It felt like we were flying with her, and when at first she pulled out, she was only about three feet from Kevin’s head. With a wingspan of at least five and a half feet, she was magnificent. We were beside ourselves. The second sighting had symbolic significance. I had just referenced Coach Cowdery’s suggestion that we had to have ‘Jesse days’, in which we should honor his memory by having as much fun as possible and soaking in every ray of sun, literally and figuratively. These days should be lighthearted and carefree and full of laughter and spirit. Anyway, we had both been quick to agree that we were having such a day, when we spotted another pair of high-flying birds. They were eagles this time, and they were flying about fifty feet from each other, and they were probably two-hundred feet in the air. Upon further review, there were three of them. Neither of us had to make mention of its meaning: Jesse’s favorite song was ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley. I realize that they’re not exactly little birds, but I’m going to go ahead and claim the sighting as a gift form Jesse, and you can’t stop me.

We zigged when we should have zagged at one point and found ourselves on a muddy back road that took us on a horseshoe-shaped detour. Even the miscue was funny, looking back. Kevin and Steve took time to regroup, reassess and we were on our way. Kevin was only grumpy for around 2 minutes and the situation was a great lesson of mood and path recovery. We found a hose and washed off the bikes and they were good as new, just like us.

We had a canine adventure on Day Seventy; and, it was another growing experience. We’ve always worked with the ‘outrun the dog’ strategy or even just yell ‘stay’. Today, though, we had a barking snarling visitor that would not stop, so Kevin deployed the water bottle tactic. He was deadly accurate, and he fired and icy stream of H2O right between the hounds eyes, stopping him cold with a whimper. It was a milestone, and I only wished that we’d gotten hip to this earlier in the trip. But…now I know. Canines beware!

On the last leg of the day’s ride, we came across a peaceful pasture with several horses and a flag that had been put at half-mast. There was, in that setting, so much rich symbolic clarity that it would be difficult to put it all down. What I’ll choose to share with you is that it clearly and powerfully felt like it was a deliberate offering. Or maybe I’ve just been on this bike too long!

After an epic day, we arrived at J.H. Knighton Lumber, a family business owned by Kevin’s longtime friend, TK Knighton. We were shown the operation and brought through its history and the evolution of the business itself. The lumber business, like many others, had been hit hard by the housing crisis. On top of that recent blow, the steady trend towards paperless workplaces had caused the industry to evolve, and out of necessity. It’s clear that TK and his siblings have a resilient attitude about making it though this time, though and a refreshing outlook on surviving it without compromising their ethics of their standards towards treating their employees with respect and caring for them as if they were family.

TK was about as good of a host as anyone could ever hope for and he invited Stevie Boy and me to stay at his house, along with him and Kevin. We sat down like gentlemen (a bit rare for the riders this summer, I must say) and had a great meal. Richmond is a terrific town, and TK made sure to show us some of its great highlights, historically and otherwise.

Jesse – thanks for smiling on us. We’re working hard out here, and you just gave us some great fuel for Act III.

For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit!

Care Creates Community,

Matt Sauri