Friday, July 24, 2009

Why I Ride

In 1987, I was attending the University of Kentucky as a second year architecture student. One sunny Thursday afternoon, while walking back from lunch to studio with a good friend and fellow classmate, the unthinkable happened. From seemingly nowhere, an automobile suddenly roared up onto the sidewalk and struck me in the legs, tossing me like a ragdoll into the air and back onto the sidewalk a good ten yards from my previous position. As I lay there in pain, I realized I could not move my right leg from the knee down. My friend, untouched by the incident, raced to my side, fearing the worst. As he approached, I commented shakily that my leg was surely broken, and he did his best to calm my nerves. Time quickly blurred, and within what seemed only minutes, I found myself laying in a UK Medical Center hospital bed with the lead orthopedic surgeon examining my leg. The good news was that not a single bone was broken. Lucky, eh? Not quite. The bad news was that three of the four major ligaments within my right knee (which suffered the brunt of the impact) were shredded, meaning the upper and lower portions of my leg were literally held together by a single thread. To compound the problem, my hamstring was completely torn in half and the paraniel nerve running along the outside of my leg suffered severe trauma, causing my right foot to hang lifelessly. As if all this weren't bad enough, the killing blow came when the doctor informed me of the sobering fact that I would probably not be able to walk again without the use of a cane, most likely for the rest of my life. Needless to say, I was devastated, but little did I know that I was actually in the best facility to handle these types of injuries and in the care of one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country. Long story short, after 9 hours of surgery, a cadaver ligament replacement, 4 screws, 3 staples, months of changing knee and foot braces, and almost two years of exhaustively painful rehab, I found myself walking within 95% of normal...and joyously, without a cane in sight!

Of course, the road to recovery wasn't all bad. In addition to the wonderful support of family and friends, I was also unwittingly introduced to the sport of cycling. During rehab, it was part of my daily routine to ride the exercise bike for extended periods of time. The benefit of this was two-fold. Not only did it keep the knee loose and limber, preventing the build-up of scar tissue, it also helped build the overall strength of the muscles protecting it. During these cycling exercises, the strength of the good leg would transfer power to the weak leg, forcing it to work, practically willing it back to full strength. Over the course of several months, progress soared, and before long, I felt like my old self. Once rehab was complete and I graduated college, I didn't want to loose all the gains I had made, so I inquired as to the best activities to keep my knee loose and my legs strong. Once again, cycling was the answer. Since my knee was still not 100%, and probably never would be, I needed to be careful about the level of stress I subjected it to. Running and heavy weight lifting were not recommended at the time due to the harsh and pounding nature of those activities. With cycling, however, the stress would be greatly reduced on the knees while the strength gains remained significant. So, upon my return to Cleveland in 1991, I bought a $1200 Raleigh Peak hybrid bicycle and road like there was no tomorrow. Before long, I was racking up the miles, participating in bike tours, and quickly falling in love with the sport of cycling.

Now, almost 22 years after the accident, and closing in on 45 years of age, I am a better, faster, and stronger rider than I ever was in my 20's, and I am looking forward to decades more on the bike. Just this year, in fact, I finally decided it was time to set the Raleigh Peak aside and ride a more serious machine. To that end, on April 4th, my birthday, I purchased a 2009 Giant Defy Alliance for just under $2,000. After close to twenty years on the Peak, I finally had a competitive road bike.

Through all the years of riding, though, my happiest achievement to date has got to be my participation in the MS150 'Peddle to the Point' Bike Tour. This 150 mile ride from Berea, Ohio to Sandusky, Ohio is the largest fundraising event for MS in the Northeast and I am honored to use my love of cycling to give something back to those whose outlook on life may not be quite as positive as mine. I rode in my first MS150 tour back in 1992 and am about to ride it again, for the 14th time, here in 2009. With this year's tour only a month away, and several hundred miles already under my belt on the new bike, I look forward to riding for the cause, faster than ever before.

(TOP PIC: My 2nd Pedal to the Point - 8/1993)
(BOTTOM PIC: Pedal to the Point, 15 years later - 8/2008)

So, what about the future? Well, after watching almost every stage of this year's Tour de France, I must say my enthusiasm for the sport has just received a shot in the arm. In fact, seeing the "old man", Lance Armstrong, keep his podium hopes alive against the best and youngest in the sport, I can't help but want to ride even more. And thus is my goal. I have already registered for more tours, including the 'Ponte Vino Giro' at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio and am setting my sights on the 'Pelotonia' next year, a 200 mile fundraising bike tour for cancer in the Columbus, Ohio area. Not only is it another great cause and a challenging course, but Armstrong himself will be riding the tour as well. Imagine the thrill of peddling alongside a cycling legend...and my hero.

And I'd like YOU to join me...if not on the roadways, then in the pages of this blog. It is here I plan to log all of my cycling adventures going forward, from training rides to gruelling tours, all the while sprinkling in fun and informative cycling tidbits. And of course, I'd love to hear from you, my fellow cyclists. So let's crank it, shall we? "Livestrong!"

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