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World class

A Q&A with professional cyclist Fabio Calabria

Fabio Calabria

Team Novo Nordisk/Poby

We all know the Tulsa Tough weekend is a big deal and a great occasion to party, but what is it like for the cyclists who race in it?

For Fabio Calabria, Tulsa Tough has played a huge role in his life—and not just because he enjoys its races and festivities. Originally from Canberra, Australia, Calabria met his wife Misty while participating in the 2015 Tulsa Tough. Now, he lives here.

Calabria, age 30, has had type 1 diabetes since he was 13, is in his 12th season racing as a professional, and is a proud member of Team Novo Nordisk, whose cyclists all have diabetes. He and his teammates want to show the world that they live active, productive, athletic lives while managing the disease.

I spoke to Calabria while he was overseas racing in Estonia and Poland before returning home to prepare for Tulsa Tough.

John Tranchina: You’re racing in Europe right now. Being a pro cyclist sounds like a cool way to see the world and compete at the same time.

Fabio Calabria: I’m pretty lucky, for sure. I get to travel around all over the place and basically have my hobby as my profession. It’s pretty awesome.

Tranchina: How much are you away at races and how often do you get home?

Calabria: The season is February through November. When we’re not during the season, we have training camps and stuff, so the travel’s pretty constant.

I’m probably home in little spurts. We do most of our racing in Europe. I’ll probably take three trips to Europe during the year. I’ve been here in Europe for a month, and I’ll do at least one more month here, maybe two [later in the year], and then in between I’ll have some races where I’m traveling in and out of Tulsa. I probably spend, if you average it out, one week every month at home during the heart of the season. It’s a lot of travel.

Tranchina:That must make it more fun to come home for Tulsa Tough.

Calabria: Absolutely. It’s really fun because I have a lot of friends who come into town for the race, so it’s really neat to show off the town to them. Racing at home’s pretty special any time, but when it’s such a big event, it’s a little bit more special,
I think.

Tranchina: How does Tulsa Tough compare to other races around the country and around the world?

Calabria: I would say, in terms of crowd participation and the city of Tulsa in general getting behind the race, it’s world-class. The amount of people that come out to watch the race is not really seen anywhere else, unless you’re getting into some really big races like the Tour de France or Tour of Italy or Tour of Spain. Especially in the U.S., having crowds like [you get at Tulsa Tough] is just really special. And it’s just a really nice vibe in town during the whole week. It’s really welcoming. Sometimes you go to a race and if the race is shutting off streets and stuff, certain businesses don’t really see the benefit in it, so there’s a bit of hostility, whereas I feel like Tulsa really embraces it, and sees it as an opportunity to do some really cool stuff.

Tranchina: Has Tulsa Tough made an impression on your biking friends from other places?

Calabria: I’m from Australia, and I had a couple of friends come two years ago for their first Tulsa Tough, and they basically haven’t stopped talking about it since. They came back last year, and have been talking to each other about this year’s race since then. I don’t know of anyone that’s come and didn’t come back, which is really cool.

Tranchina: What is your favorite part of the weekend?

Calabria: I would say the way it feels like the whole city gets behind the race. We’ll ride in the mornings before the races, and usually, when I wasn’t living in Tulsa, we came in a day or two before to get settled, and you’ll have people in cars rolling their windows down, asking you when the race is, where you’re from and wishing you good luck and things like that. You don’t really get that many places.

Tranchina: Your wife, Misty, is from Tulsa. How did you meet her?

Calabria: In 2015, my first time doing Tulsa Tough, I met her while I was there for the race. So, then I started traveling to Tulsa to see her and it got to the point where I wasn’t actually going home, so that’s when I moved to Tulsa. It’s going on a year and a half now. That’s one of the reasons why [Tulsa Tough] is so special to me, because that’s where I met her.

Tranchina: As part of Team Novo Nordisk, you’re racing with diabetes. What does it mean to have that cause behind you?

Calabria: It’s really special to be a part of the team. I’ve raced for other teams and you’re wearing a jersey and it doesn’t really have any meaning other than it’s the company that’s paying the bills. There’s no real deeper meaning or deeper association with it. So, this team for me is really special, because it’s a bit more. Every time I pull the jersey on before a race, I feel pride, because we’re not just a team advertising a product.

The goal of the team is to—first off—show that you can race with type 1 diabetes. And I reach out to people when we’re out traveling to different places [to] educate, inspire, empower people with type 1 diabetes … and try to change the stigma attached to it. I feel like the diabetes community has received the team well, and I think in general, the cycling community has also.

A lot of people get a bit disheartened by a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, especially small children and parents of small children. So, we can meet up with them and show that I’m no different than anyone else in the bike race, I just happen to have type 1 diabetes as well. It doesn’t stop me from racing my bike, it doesn’t stop me from traveling around the world, and I think being able to actually see people doing it really helps people.

One my teammates, Steven Clancy, he’s from Ireland and I know that he’s said that seeing us racing with type 1 diabetes at Tour of Ireland years ago kind of motivated him that he could do it and that he could become a professional athlete. There’s another guy on the team that had a similar experience, where he saw us racing in France and that kind of motivated him to chase his dreams. That’s really special—hearing that we kind of inspired them. Without sounding all super-corny, having that bond with all the teammates is pretty neat.

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