Roadies walk into a mostly empty facility and rebuild, from scratch, the spaceship that travels around with them in the back of semis and trailers. Roadies endure long hours to get the job done. They are the production muscle, backbone, brains and talent the artist relies upon. They endure being away from home and loved ones to put on shows for adoring fans in transporting them from their typical life to enjoy a night of amazing entertainment.
The endurance of a roadie is built up over years of seeing every scenario in the book unfold. Roadies have a toolbox full of solutions to thwart the evil “gig gods” that want to spoil a good show, ones filled by experiencing years of roadblocks and overcoming them by creatively discovering how to get the job done. That “show must go on” mentality is real.
This story will be focused on one specific roadie accomplishing one enormous challenge. Tom Wood, a touring front of house engineer, started a journey in Toronto, Canada on a bicycle that ended in a small part of Houston, TX called The Woodlands. Note he didn’t actually bike from Toronto to Texas, but if you add the miles he pedaled – and swam and ran during the pandemic “break” – it might be pretty close.
Rolling Into It
At the beginning of the pause in 2020, Wood wanted to keep his mixing chops at peak performance, and luckily he lived within biking distance to a local Toronto audio shop where his FOH mixing rig was located. What you and I consider “biking distance” might be quite different, but nonetheless, once he started putting in those miles with his bike, he decided to move on to swimming, then running, and suddenly found himself training with a coach.
This is when his initial idea of independently completing numerous triathlons, while on tour in every city possible, started to take shape. He envisioned an attempt to complete a feat fit for Guinness World Records – but would they go for it? (Note: Guiness World Records was known as the Guinness Book Of World Records in the U.S. until the late 1990s.)
Wood decided that whatever would come of the Guinness attempt of completing numerous triathlons, he wanted to make sure he was partnered with an industry-based non-profit to bring awareness to a good cause. “I knew that I wanted to partner with The Roadie Clinic because I believe in what they are doing to support roadies and their families,” he says. “Touring is a lot like an endurance race. It can wear you down and a lot of people on the road end up in situations where they need help. You can trust The Roadie Clinic because they are roadies themselves.”
Courtney Klimson, fellow co-founder of The Roadie Clinic (TRC) with the author, was excited about the opportunity to support his efforts. “Talking to Tom was a breath of fresh air,” she explains. “Here was a roadie that we didn’t know personally, finding us on his own, understanding the vision and wanting to bring awareness to the cause. How could we not support him?”
The first task: make sure Wood was decked out in TRC logos and help him start raising awareness. Further, he amped up his training in Toronto all the while knowing that touring would be coming back soon and it might be difficult to keep up the regimen. (Go here for the latest developments from The Roadie Clinic.)
Along the way, Guinness responded that it would be too difficult to track the logistics of the attempt he proposed, so the decision was made to enter a single Ironman Triathlon instead. For the uninitiated, an “Ironman” event is a long-distance triathlon race that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, raced in that order. Simply, it’s widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.
Shortly thereafter, shows did indeed return and Wood prepared to take his bike on tour to continue training. “Everyone was super cool about me stashing my rig in the bay of the bus, even though it took up more room than a typical piece of luggage,” he reports. It allowed him to bike the necessary miles to continue his training on days when he didn’t have a show, and along the way he also stayed in constant communication with his progress as TRC backed him in any possible way.
And that brings the story to the finishing line in The Woodlands, where the night before, Wood, his partner Leah, me and TRC social media manager Lexi met for dinner. He was focused on what lay ahead in the early hours of that next morning.
Although he expressed some concern about certain sections of the race, he also seemed almost gleeful that he’d made it to this point and was hungry to get to the starting position. What had started as a way to combat the drudgery of confinement during the pandemic had transformed into pièce de résistance of perseverance, grit and determination.
The 2.4-mile rolling-start before sunrise began with a swim in Lake Woodlands, starting at North Shore Park and ending in the canal at Town Green Park. When his support team crested the bridge to take up a good spot to view the start of the race, it instantly became clear how massive this commitment had become. The dark water of the pre-dawn lake was eerie enough to send shivers up any spectator’s spine. A line of rescue kayakers stretched a half a mile up the lake ending at a bright orange buoy, indicating the turnaround point.
The National Anthem rippled across the water as yards of athletes could be seen standing under the glow of generator lights. In some ways, it looked like the end of a long load-out following a festival, but this was only the beginning. I must admit this is when I started to become concerned about his safety. The reality of the mountain ahead of him finally sank in, and the only relief was cheering as loud as possible when we spotted him. The outcome of the day was fully resting in Wood’s dedication to training, his physical strength and mental resilience.
The swim started with a literal bang and the mass of humanity entered the water and started their charge up the lake. After some time learning how to read the Ironman app, our cheer squad saw that Wood was rounding the bend into the canal. We relied on Leah to point out the correct swim cap as the horde of swimmers passed by.
When he emerged from the water smiling, he truly looked like he’d just finished lounging at a beach and wanted to go get some drinks. The smile was unforgettable. He’d completed what was expected to be his hardest leg of the day.
Following the swim, the athletes changed into their biking gear to start the 112-mile journey down the open road. After navigating out of The Woodlands, the Hardy Toll Road took the crown as the hardest leg of the ride, with extremely windy conditions that were a challenge for even seasoned veterans of the race.
When we caught Wood at the checkpoint to transition off his bike, we were again met with his infectious smile. He even had the mental capacity to joke around from inside the barriers, yelling, “Do you know there’s a RUN next?!!” And that would be the 26.2 miles that were the final test of his quest…
The daylight started to fade. Every few hours Tom passed by the grassy knoll we were perched on as he pounded out each mile. Darkness descended and a coolness came across the course. Cramps, exhaustion, and depleted energy started to pick off athletes at a steady rate, yet Wood’s face never showed how tough the course truly was. His pace was steady. His form appeared efficient.
Blasting music, cheering, and bright lights created a joyous and familiar scene illuminating the final destination for the athletes. It wasn’t hard to spot him rounding the corner with his flowing curls and bright yellow TRC tri-suit. Eyeing the finish, he raised his arms as he crossed the line and the announcer declared, “TOM WOOD – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!”
And this is the point in the gig where the crew would know it’s time to load out. Another 18-plus-hour-day in the books. Time to pack up and get to the next city.
While this particular crew only had a few short hours together, a bond was formed in the stories told. Had I ever shared a bus with Wood? Had we ever mixed a show together? No and No. But when you meet a fellow roadie and you share an experience, that’s where the bond forms. We are part of a bigger family.
Congrats to Tom Wood for his spectacular efforts in finishing strong. His energy was and is infectious, his heart pure, and his talent inspiring. If that weren’t enough, he helped spread awareness of our vision, one that hopes for a “Healthy Road Life, Healthy Home Life” for all roadies and their families. So maybe that “congrats” should truly be a “thank you!” Either way, job well done, Tom.
Go to the next page for an update from The Roadie Clinic.