The Zombie Hat Chase

Pretty much everybody has had that nightmare where you feel as though you're running through Jell-O, body unable to execute the mind’s desperate pleas to sprint. One day in March of 2012, I found myself experiencing that scenario in real life, lurching down the corridors of Ducati’s Borgo Panigale headquarters like a character from Night of the Living Dead while my brain frantically urged my protesting limbs to turn over. "Chris, where are you?!" my boss's voice boomed through my cell phone. "We're about to start!"

The occasion was the Ducati Team’s 2012 pre-MotoGP season unveiling of the Desmosedici GP12, although the actual team launch had already taken place two months earlier at the gala event known as Wrooom. Once held every January at the Madonna di Campiglio ski resort in the Dolomite region of the Italian Alps, Wrooom was always a golden ticket for journalists, who were fêted for an entire week, with extended sessions of skiing, snowboarding, wining and dining only occasionally interrupted by the odd press conference.

The journalists’ workload for that year’s edition had been particularly light, as the traditional motorcycle unveiling was cut from the program. That move was prompted by then-Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi’s attempt to improve chassis performance following Valentino Rossi’s disastrous 2011 Ducati debut, but while the motivation was laudable, the unveiling’s cancelation gave the event an anticlimactic feel—rather awkward for me as the team’s press officer. It was vital that this new, additional launch be a success.

Valentino and Nicky--both safely behatted--at the 2012 Desmosedici unveiling. (Milagro photo)

Goodness knows enough work had gone into the preparation. Team sponsor TIM (owned by telecommunications company Telecom Italia) was set to livestream the event through their Facebook page--still a relatively ambitious idea back then--and Ducati's marketing department had performed its typically excellent promotional work. Fans were already logging on from around the world, and a select group of VIP guests (mostly executives from various team partners) was seated in the studio at that very moment. Famous Italian comedian Valerio Staffelli would be interviewing the riders on stage, and I was to translate for Rossi’s teammate, American Nicky Hayden. All of which made my current scenario—stumbling on protesting legs, across the Ducati campus from the studio where the event was set to kick off in minutes—somewhat inconvenient.

My body had been much more cooperative the day before, when I competed in the Rome Marathon, setting what is still my personal record over 26.2 miles. On the train ride back to Bologna that night though, my hamstrings began locking up. 

That was a bit more abusive than we were led to believe,” I could imagine my muscles saying. “Hope you’re not expecting much out of us tomorrow...”

At first, I had managed launch day relatively well by carefully minimizing time spent on my feet. In fact, I was seated off-stage in the studio, chatting with the riders while awaiting the green light, when team marketing boss Alessandro Cicognani casually asked, "Nicky, can you please put on your team hat?" When the Kentucky Kid turned to me expectantly, the immediate realization of what I was about to endure made my head swim.

To this day, the memory of that fraught excursion is a blur punctuated by moments of clarity—my bizarre gait as I hurried through the building; the door to the Ducati Corse office requiring multiple swipes of my key card; madly rummaging through a metal cabinet; again staggering through the empty hallways; and finally bursting into the studio with one red flat-brim cap triumphantly in hand, just as the spotlight followed Staffelli onto the stage. I was a bit sweaty and breathless during the subsequent interview with a behatted Nicky, but it was a rare public performance during which my predominant emotion was more relief than nervousness.

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