LEWISTON -- Donald Felice is living his dream, again.
He's on the open road, feeling the wind whip against his face while racing his bike down a hill. He's working up a sweat, enjoying the thrill of the chase.
He's having fun, the reason he first fell for the sport of bicycle racing as a kid.
This is Felice's second go-round with racing, and it's a little different this time. It usually is when the spark returns in a love affair following a long hiatus. In this case, different is a good thing because Felice's dream has reached the honeymoon stage.
Felice, 39, has been selected by the United States Cycling Association to represent the United States in the International Cycling Union Masters Pan-American Championships in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
Felice leaves for Argentina on Oct. 23 and is scheduled to compete on Nov. 1 (12.6-mile time trial) and Nov. 8 (62-mile race through the mountains).
Both races will be televised on ESPN Deportes.
"I've raced professionally [and] as an amateur. I've worn many different jerseys. I've never had a chance to wear the red, white and blue. I'm excited to be selected for something like this," said Felice, a chef who also works part-time at a bicycle store in Williamsville.
"I'm going to be racing against the best masters [level racers] in the Western Hemisphere," he said. "It's definitely a challenge that I'm looking forward to. I'm going there with no expectations other than to get there and to be selected. If anything above and beyond that happens, it's going to be a bonus."
Positive memories would be just as nice as a gold medal.
The trip to Argentina completes Felice's comeback in a sport he gave up for more than seven years shortly after he attained his childhood dream of becoming a professional cyclist.
He turned pro after his graduation from Lewiston-Porter High School in 1987. But while training with a riding team in Italy in May 1990, his dream turned into a nightmare when he witnessed the death of a teammate, who was run over by a truck after being thrown from his bike following a crash.
Felice refused to even ride a bike to the store during his seven-year hiatus.
"It was hard to get over it. I just couldn't ride. Getting rid of the . . . the picture in my head, it took a very, very long time to get over that.
"It was just a freak accident. The way the roads are in Italy, they're all single-lane roads when you're winding through these little towns. There was a sidewalk where there was a truck making a delivery that was . . . parked up on the sidewalk and taking a little bit of the road and then another truck [coming from] the other way.
"When we came around the corner, there were 10 of us on the team. A couple of guys got through no problem, a couple guys stopped. A couple guys jammed brakes and hit the back of the truck and went toward the curb on the inside. A couple of guys crashed right there and then unfortunately the last rider . . . kind of hit the whole pile and fell out into the road and instantly the truck ran him over."
Images of joy and triumph ultimately rekindled Felice's passion for cycling.
The joy came from the euphoria Felice experienced while watching the Tour de France with his daughter Alexi in 1997. It was at that moment when he realized that she too, at the young age of 2, had a passion for the sport just like him. That prompted Felice to buy a bike so that he could ride around the neighborhood.
A year later, he tested himself in a local road race just to see if he still had the physical tools to compete.
The picture of triumph came when cancer survivor Lance Armstrong won the first of his seven straight Tour de France titles in 1999. It was at that moment when the 5-foot-10 Felice had his moment of clarity.
"If someone like him could do it, why am I sitting around [not racing]?" Felice said. "That's pretty much when I started to get the itch again."
Scratching that itch has been quite rewarding, especially this season.
Felice didn't expect to have too much success in 2008, since he's 39 and in his final year in what is considered the most competitive age division (35-39 masters) in bicycling.
Instead of pushing himself to the point of exhaustion while training, he opted to take it easy. He rode for pure enjoyment, often with Alexi, who's not a competitive racer but was more than willing to go along for the ride just to spend time with her father.
As a result, he's had more energy on race day.
He'll be able to spend more time riding now that the Silo restaurant, where he works, has closed for the season.
Felice won the state time trial championships in Auburn and also captured a bronze medal in another state road race in Boston, N.Y., over the summer. Those results, along with his third-place finish in the Tour de Loop in Oswego, a 31-mile race with a field of 185 riders, captured the attention of the United States Cycling Federation officials and resulted in his selection to the national team.
The only negative about the road trip, besides the $10,000 cost, which Felice has almost raised via T-shirt sales and a fundraiser dinner, is that Alexi, now 13, won't be able to tag along. She'll be on a class trip in Washington, D.C., but she does plan to be glued to the tube when it's time for dad to race.
"I like when he wins just to see how proud he is," Alexi said. "It's pretty cool having him go there because now, whenever we go out, we run into people and they always ask him and it's fun to talk about. I like it."
While Felice is thrilled to be participating in the event, he does hope to return with something besides happy memories.
"My dream is to come home with a contract," he said. "There are companies out there that make bicycles for people like me to ride and race and to test. There are a lot of companies out there that have reps that ride and race and wear their jerseys. . . . Anything that pays for my bills and has to do with my bicycle, that's been my dream since I was 7 or 8 years old."
Help with the big ride
Don Felice has almost raised enough money to cover the $10,000 expense of his 20-day trip to Mar del Plata, Argentina. He is roughly $500 shy of his goal with four days left for fundraising. He collected close to $5,000 during a fundraiser last month. The rest has come from the sale of USA Cycling T-shirts. Here's how to get a T-shirt:
To order: Call 417-1611.
Deadline: Must order by Wednesday
Corporate orders: Bulk purchase of 15 shirts or more includes a corporate logo or other artwork printed on each shirt for free.