Here’s what the critics had to say.
The executive editor of Bicycling magazine explores childhood, fatherhood and cycling in this moving memoir about the legacy of child abuse and the healing power of sport and family. In Emmaus, Pa., in 2004, 39-year-old Strickland decided to take up a near-impossible challenge proposed by his preschool-aged daughter Natalie, to score 10 points in a single season; to do so, he has to place among the top four — ten times — in a local weekly race populated by Olympians and cycling legends. Alternating between present-day life and dispatches from his horrific childhood, Strickland introduces his sadistic father, a man who put a loaded gun in his son’s mouth, made him eat dog feces and encouraged him to have sex with his babysitter, among other outrages. Strickland juxtaposes these episodes with scenes of his own shortcomings: unbridled anger with his daughter and marital infidelity with a colleague. It’s only through numerous races (and missed points) that he learns to tame the inner demons that threaten his new family. Strickland’s lyrical prose and swift pacing lighten the material’s weight, but it remains a necessarily brutal read that goes several shades darker than most sports memoirs; though non-cyclists may get bored during the race scenes (and there are plenty), anyone dealing with familial abuse will find Strickland’s journey an inspiration.
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Bill Strickland is the kind of cycling fanatic whose two-wheeler costs more than his pickup truck. He’s not a pro, but he lives near a world-class training facility in Pennsylvania and battles elite riders every week in an open race. With little chance of scoring any points against such super-jocks, Strickland desperately wants to test his willpower against any hardship, such as the self-destructive behavior that threatens his marriage, child-rearing, and even his cycling. His demons stem from his malevolent father’s abuse, horrors that would make even Eli Roth squirm. Following Strickland’s uphill climb, both in life and in racing, is a bracing and rewarding experience.
—Warren Cohen, Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)
When the executive editor of Bicycling told his four-year-old daughter that he would win 10 points during a single amateur bike-racing season, he knew he had made a promise that was almost impossible to keep. To win a point, a competitor has to be among the first four finishers in a race, and Strickland, a writer not a racer, was going up against the elite, men and women who dedicate their lives to the sport. But, being a man who loved his little girl, he took on the challenge and discovered that it wasn’t really about the racing at all: it was about being the best father he could be and about coming to terms with the memories of his own abusive childhood. The sports-as-spiritual-therapy theme has been explored plenty of times, and perhaps Strickland doesn’t offer any blindingly new revelations, but his book is honest, and he doesn’t waste our time with banal observations or facile psychologizing. He is also a very talented writer, and readers should brace themselves for some very moving — and also some rather unsettling — passages.
— David Pitt, Booklist
A PROMISE TO HIS DAUGHTER IMPELS THE AUTHOR
TO REVISIT HIS HORRIFIC CHILDHOOD.
It seems natural for cycling writer Strickland to use his bike as the metaphorical basis for a book about struggling to overcome memories of abuse by his father while trying to become the perfect husband and parent himself, even if the connection isn’t always as smooth as the gear-shifting on his $5,000 carbon bicycle. The narrative centers on his quest to obtain ten points in the Thursday Night Crit, a weekly 30-mile race that offered professional and top-flight amateur riders the opportunity to earn points during periodic sprint laps. After classifying the task as “impossible” to his preschool daughter, he set out to prove to her that nothing is impossible if you truly believe in it. Strickland’s marathon training sessions and continual near-misses in the Crit serve as windows through which to examine his relationship with an abusive father and the constant fear that he might become the same. The author unflinchingly describes gut-wrenching moments like the time his father forced him to eat feces at gunpoint. Transitions between these memories and the highly dramatized bike races (whose nuances may be lost on readers unfamiliar with cycling) are occasionally jarring, but the author manages to create sufficient tension even for those who don’t know Lance Armstrong from Lance Bass.
Uncomfortable, but ultimately satisfying.
— Kirkus Reviews
Bicycling editor and MJ contributor Bill Strickland’s memoir Ten Points ($24; Hyperion) is about cycling the way A River Runs Through It is about fishing; the sport quickly spins into metaphor. Strickland races because his preschool-age daughter begged him to. But he’s really pedaling away from the legacy of his own father; an ogre who forced his son to eat his father’s own shit and stuck a loaded pistol in the boy’s mouth when he refused.
— Men’s Journal
HOT READS FOR THE SUMMER
By Bill Strickland
Hyperion, $23.95 (July)
The executive editor of Bicycling magazine tackles a cycling challenge that changes his life.
— Chicago Tribune
Bill Strickland was trying to outrun his past when he started racing against Olympic-quality cyclists at a training facility near his Pennsylvania home, said Amanda Heller in The Boston Globe. His stirring story proves “there is absolutely nothing” less than world-class about his heart, and his race descriptions are sure to get every reader’s blood pumping, too.
— The Week
Bill Strickland seemed to have it all, but a loving wife and daughter and a successful career masked a childhood of horrifying abuse. Fearful that he would lose his family forever, Bill accepted a life-changing challenge from his daughter. A lifelong but decidedly average bicyclist, Bill was challenged to score ten points in a series of weekly cycle races that were usually dominated by pro racers and national champions. In this book, Bill looks back at his epic struggle and talks about the spiritual, emotional, and physical journey he undertook to make his family proud. A truly inspiring read, Ten Points shows that, no matter what the odds, determination can help you achieve anything.
— Strand Bookstore
Every so often a book comes along that seizes the reader, like The Kite Runner and Tuesdays with Morrie. It happens again here. Magazine editor Bill Strickland places his own life—traumatic roots and all—in the context of a challenge and within the framework of an obsession. The subject is amateur bicycle racing—a grueling sport resulting in rare, if any, fulfillment. At its core is a bond between father and daughter—the mirror opposite Strickland’s tormented childhood. His passion is rooted in the bicycle, which, he says, “reached inside me and touched something essential to my spirit.” His young daughter’s wish that he’ll score a daunting 10 points (through a complex system) over a season of weekly competitive racing becomes an Everest of sorts, with flashbacks to long-buried, dispiriting times. Often painful, this isn’t an easy book to read—or forget.
— Go (the Airtran Airways inflight magazine)
Like David going forth to challenge Goliath, Bill Strickland, an amateur cyclist, decided to take on the big guys — Olympic hopefuls and wiry veterans of international glamour events — by competing in a season’s worth of cycling races near his home in Pennsylvania. He was determined not just to compete (“throwing myself under the wheels of a pack of world-class cyclists,” he calls it) but to win points awarded for being among the top finishers.
Strickland knows how to pump up the most sedentary reader’s blood pressure with his visceral descriptions of churning through the pack at high speed, a hair’s-breadth from the aggressive elbows and slashing machines of the competition. More than an adrenaline-charged athlete’s narrative, however, Ten Points is the memoir of a psyche in jeopardy, a soul in pain. Strickland races to mend a damaged marriage, to reassure his precocious little daughter that wishes come true. But he also races to outrun the nightmare of a toxic upbringing and the fear of turning out like his father, a vicious sadist bent on proving his manhood in the worst possible ways.
Strickland first took up cycling because of a family history of cardiac trouble. In metaphorical terms, at least, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this man’s heart.
—Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe
MAN ON A MISSION
When Bill Strickland’s 5-year-old asked if he could become a top cyclist in one season, he knew it was impossible—and that he had to try. In Ten Points (Hyperion; $24), Strickland weaves between his abusive past and hopeful future with heart-wrenching honesty, proving that “you should ask much, and expect much, of the people you love.”
— Parade magazine
“…not an easy conversation, but an important one . . . While the physical demands were grueling, the emotional journey was even harder.”
— Marty Moss-Coane, Radio Times, National Public Radio
A RIDE TO REDEMPTION
Bill Strickland loves cycling thoroughly, endlessly, obsessively. In other words, he’s just like you and me. Unlike most of us, though, he’s able to write about it lyrically. In Ten Points, his just-released memoir of a season chasing dreams and running from demons, his descriptive skills are on display. About his local criterium series, he writes:
“The world was nothing except the ten-foot gap between my front wheel and the wheel of some guy I knew only by the color of the jersey he wore each week. My wheels began making a low whooming sound like a commuter jet’s propeller winding up. I’d never made my bike emit that sound before, but I’d heard it from some of the others. The hiss of pure power.”
For all the great passages like this one, though, this book is not about racing. Ten Points is Strickland’s account of his struggle to escape fate, “to use the pedals to crush the curse of myself.” Without context, that may sound uncomfortably melodramatic, but Strickland’s life didn’t begin easily.
His boyhood is played out in the shadow of a terrifying madman, who comes in the form of his own father. An alcoholic, a drug addict, a sadist, a philandering salesman and a mean-spirited product of his own hardscrabble upbringing, Billy Joe Strickland is a terrifying presence. He breaks Bill’s nose with a hammer, one of many random acts of boredom, willful hatred, or both. He sticks a snub-nose revolver into Bill’s mouth and pulls the trigger. He forces his son to eat feces from a plate.
Strickland finds his escape on the bike. “The bicycle spoke to my soul,” he writes. “It reached inside me and touched something essential to my spirit the way old stamps, or African violets, or egg tempera infuse other people.” In high school, he bought a used Schwinn Paramount and “without knowing exactly what I was doing, I’d more or less ridden away enough destructive energy to let myself graduate, avoid jail, and meet and romance a farm girl from southern Indiana.”
Now, approaching midlife, Strickland is a married father fighting his own demons. He finds his dead father’s monstrous forces struggling to find a way to disrupt his own life. To bring focus to his pursuit of happiness, he promises his daughter he will try to score ten points by the end of the summer crit series.
What follows is no ordinary tale of redemption. Strickland confesses all — his infidelities, insecurities, wanton acts of destruction and his attempts to “use evil to destroy evil.” His honesty is sobering. Strickland points the finger at himself, but few readers won’t find something of themselves in these pages.
If the book has a weakness, it’s the overly sentimental portrayal of Natalie, Strickland’s 5-year-old daughter. Natalie serves as the book’s axis, the story revolving around Strickland’s desperate quest to be a worthy father to his innocent child. Natalie, we’re told, wears “kitten underpants and blue jeans with flowers embroidered on the cuffs.” She has eighty-three stuffed kittens, a princess bed and a tiger sleeping bag. In a Tinkerbell moment, her parents buy Natalie a breed of cat that never grows larger than a kitten.
But even the relentless cuteification of little Natalie can’t spoil Ten Points. You may be drawn to this book by the power of its bike-racing scenes, but the story Strickland tells will grab you viscerally, frighten you thoroughly, and stick with you long after you’ve reached the last page.
—Ted Costantino, VeloNews: The Journal of Competitive Cycling
LEGS PUMPING, RIDER UNDERTAKES AN EXORCISM
ON TWO WHEELS
Is it possible to outpace the sins of the father?
Bill Strickland, Bicycling magazine’s executive editor, believes, with good reason, that the horrific abuse he endured at the hands of his dad during an Indiana childhood swallowed him whole.
A successful career, a lasting marriage and the adoration of a pre-school daughter would be enough to buffer most from the storms of a muddy past. But Strickland’s gains only remind him what he has to lose. He lives in fear, not so much waiting for the hammer to fall but for the day he brings it down on himself and everyone he loves. He’s waiting for the day he becomes his dad.
In the meantime, Strickland rides his bicycle like a man possessed, a stroke or two ahead of his demons but more than a few bike lengths behind the legends who populate Emmaus, Penn., arguably the cycling center of the U.S. In the spring of 2004, Strickland, 39, straddling the bittersweet line between desire and physical decay, almost casually agrees to an outlandish challenge proposed by his daughter, Natalie: Score 10 points in a single race season. To do this he must place among the top four finishers, multiple times, during the weekly race of Olympians, up-and-comers and cycling royalty, many of whom are better in retirement than Strickland ever was at the height of his imagination.
With a set-up that’s almost Shakespearean, Strickland’s memoir Ten Points could have gone the way of most modern melodrama — a story about the worried well-off taking on carefully constructed obstacles to feel better about themselves.
What readers get instead is a furious and immediate exorcism on two wheels: brutal, poignant and, in the end, a hard-fought last flight out that hopes for better days rather than promises them.
Shifting between Strickland’s present-day home life, blacktop training, heart-pounding races around Emmaus and disturbing snapshots of childhood traumas he’s kept from everyone until now, he explores the source of his unease. Strickland Sr. is a swaggering wreck of a father — all plans, booze and bravado — who hits his son between the eyes with a hammer, then conspires with him to blame his sister for the deed; forces dog feces down his throat as a weekly menu item; puts a loaded gun in his son’s mouth for a heartland round of Russian Roulette and offers up the teenage babysitter as his first sexual encounter.
The chaos is overwhelming, the flashbacks graphic, the abuse appalling and all the more heartbreaking because Daddy Dearest couches it as tough-love life lessons. In literary terms, Strickland takes the time to show us where his family came from and who his dad was, not just what he did. It makes the scenes of present-day shortcomings — Strickland’s acceptable annoyances with his daughter and unacceptable marital infidelity with a colleague — weighty and real. He has all the tools to fix a bike and the technical skills to go just a little faster on two wheels, but the faith that he is a human being of value was stolen from a deep place years ago.
What should not be lost in all the turmoil and fury is how funny — granted, it’s gallows humor at times — and exceptionally tender Ten Points reads, on and off the race course. It’s a messy Irish street brawl of sorts, where those left standing offer toothless grins and head home to tell tales and kiss loved ones. The chapters packed with cycling action are breathless. Not since Tim Krabbe’s The Rider has a book captured the edge of disaster and marriage to pain that is a high-caliber bicycle race. The summer race season and those coveted points seem like a talisman to a better life, but Ten Points does not do anything the easy way, which is why it’s one of the most satisfying memoirs in years.
Rich with doubt, regret, and a man once beaten to dust forcing shape back into his days by sheer will and the love and understanding of his family, Ten Points is about doing the hard work of living.
—Joe Kurmaskie, The Oregonian
TEN POINTS CYCLIST PEDALS PAST ADVERSITIES
Ten Points is a memoir of the 39-year-old Bill Strickland’s efforts to score points during a cycling season at the world-class Lehigh Valley Velodrome near Philadelphia.
With middle age at his doorstep and the wish of a kindergarten daughter that her daddy score 10 points in a season, Strickland renews his efforts to rise above the mediocrity that has characterized his long and seldom successful amateur bicycling career.
The Thursday Night Criterion at the Velodrome is nothing like Iowa’s RAGBRAI with thousands of cyclists pedaling merrily together.
The “crit” is an obsession among fierce competitors who measure their capacity for inhaling and processing oxygen and watts per pound of body weight. Strickland measures 60 percent of Lance Armstrong’s rating.
Strickland rides a bike worth more than his pickup truck, covers several thousand miles a year, and pedals at speeds of up to 40 mph.
Strickland’s descriptions of bicycle racing are intense and exciting, but not the most compelling part of his memoir.
Interspersed with his efforts to win the valued 10 points are sickening accounts of a horrid childhood and the inflicted shame he still suffers.
His bipolar pop was proud and happy at times, and angry and furious at others. During the bad moments, the young Billy was subjected to unimaginable scatological terror, physical abuse and threats of death.
The adult Strickland fears the genetic impact of the family curse that led his father to abuse him.
“I am not my father,” Strickland repeats frequently in an effort to convince himself. Nonetheless, he is unfaithful to his wife and laments: “I’d brought my father into my house. I was not my father, but no matter how little I was like him, I was too much like him.”
Strickland seeks to escape the anxieties of the past and ride toward a more positive future by propelling his bicycle around the Velodrome track at 130 RPMs per minute.
He is not racing so much for points as showing the determination to overcome the demons within him and become a good husband and father.
Victims of child abuse often become shame-ridden, unstable adults who indulge in self-destructive behavior.
It takes courage and discipline to cleanse oneself of the curses of the past. Strickland found his salvation in the challenges of bicycle racing, a forgiving wife, and an inspiring daughter.
Strickland falls short of scoring the revered 10 points on the track, but he scores big in creating a new self and writes:
“We all … get to decide who we are, if we are a point scorer or pack fodder.” He wasn’t talking about bicycle racing.
— Carroll R. McKibbin, The Des Moines Register