A Guest Blog article by Scott RichardsonOutdoor editor/staff writer for The Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL
A bike saved my life. That’s not said to be dramatic. It’s true.
I was 54 in 2005 when I saw a picture of me that left me speechless. I avoided the camera most of the time because I weighed nearly 400 pounds. But there I was.
The truth couldn’t be avoided any longer.
At the same time, some members of the local bike club came to my office at the newspaper where I write outdoor recreation/adventure/travel stories. They were launching a local effort modeled after Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Change Lives Giveaway and wanted my help. They would give three people bikes if I would follow their progress toward their fitness goals.
I loved bike riding as a kid, but the driver’s license and girls and killed the passion. So I decided I’d get a hybrid bike and join in. I had to have a heavy wheel built to handle my girth without breaking spokes. But I joined group rides with thin people in spandex and rode my tail off – literally. I rode 3,500 miles that first year. By 2006, I’d lost more than 100 pounds. I went to the doctor for a long overdue exam. Fat people do not go to doctors. Why pay money to hear, “You’re grossly overweight. Lose it.” ? One test led to another until cancer was found. No doubt, the tumor would have gone undetected until symptoms developed were it not for the weight loss from the bike. As it was, the disease had not spread. Surgery was scheduled.
The McLean County Wheelers have an annual Big Dog contest where members log their miles and report them monthly. I was just 17 miles short of 3,500 for the year when the sun came up on June 22, the day I was to have my operation. Rather than sit home and fret, I got on my bike – by now a Giant TCRc1 road bike – and pedaled off. I got that 17 miles and more, thinking about how much my life had changed as a result of two wheels.
Afterward, I borrowed a recumbent and started to ride within a few weeks. A few weeks later, I was back on the road bike. In 2007, I rode my first bike race in a triathlon relay for LiveSTRONG. I was chosen to attend the LiveSTRONG Challenge in Austin that fall thanks to a web site devoted to Lance Armstrong’s team. I rode for that relay team again in 2008, all the while losing more weight. In 2009, I did my first full triathlon. In 2010, I did my first half Ironman. I’m training for IronMan Wisconsin on Sept. 11, about two weeks shy of my 60th birthday.
I was pronounced five years cancer free on June 22 of this year. The odds of its return are virtually nil.
The bike changed my life in another way. I got an email in 2006 shortly after my surgery from a lady who read my articles on cycling and how it helped me. She wanted help in choosing a road bike. At the end, she mentioned in passing that we had gone to high school together in a small town not far from where the newspaper is published. We rode together. She even finished a couple of centuries with me. We were married in 2008.
[Lance] Armstrong said, "it’s not about the bike," and he was right in a way. It’s about where the bike will take you. It can take you as far as your dreams.