My bike is instrumental in my fight against multiple sclerosis and has been since 1987, you see, I was diagnosed with MS originally in 1987. This is my story of my struggle with MS, but because of the miracle of being able to ride my bike, its more a story of life and hope.
I discovered riding bikes when I was very young. I was lucky to live within walking distance of the Big Wheel bike shop, which was owned by Jack Van Gent, a former racer from Holland. I would walk to the Big Wheel and just hang out there wishing I could be like the racers in the many pictures that hung there. I was tolerated by the Van Gents, they just let me hang there.
I was undersized compared to many other young athletes, but grew up playing basketball, tennis and skiing. But when I got my first two wheeler, I discovered freedom and that size was not a factor, I could ride as fast as the bigger guys. And I still idolized the racers that appeared on the walls of the Big Wheel. My dream of racing bikes would come later.
One of my prized bikes was a Libertas that I took to college at C.U. in 1971. It was promptly stolen and I didn’t replace it until after graduating from law school in 1978. In 1979 I met Hal Levitch, then a good friend of bike racer, Len Pettyjohn. Later, Len would come to play a central role in my cycling career and life. I told Hal I wanted to get into bike racing and he thought I needed a racing bike. We went back to of all places, the Big Wheel where I was fixed up by Jack Van Gent with a bike I never would have picked for myself. Jack held up a variety of wooden dowels with different colors on them. I learned later that Jack used these to determine the size and fit of the bikes he sold. And then I started racing, easily the hardest thing I have ever attempted.
I was dropped in my first eight races. Starting in the ninth race, I began to realize that I needed to use more brain power to make up for my lack of horsepower. That meant to learn, study and ask questions of the racers who knew the secrets. So I started to pick the brains of very smart people like Len Pettyjohn.
In 1981, I formed the Maglia Rosa Bicycle Racing Team in Denver and yes, we were known as the pink jersey team. I had better organization skills than racing skills, but I was totally happy to be immersed in the sport I had loved since I was seven years old. I was fortunate to meet some very special people who started with Maglia Rosa, like Jon Vaughters; John Barvik; Rod Yoder; Mark Brown; Will James; Jeff Hartman and Alison Dunlap. I was always humbled to watch them race wearing our bright pink jerseys. And I watched the leader of the Denver Spoke team, Len, and learned with every mistake I made, which were numerous.
My racing career was limited, I became a Cat. III and then a Master and consistently had my brains beat in every race. I had one of my best results in Len’s Tour of Denver, but never got to finish on the podium, except in one fake race staged for Denver’s Channel 7. However, one of my greatest accomplishments was to get many Maglia Rosa riders in the movie, American Flyers as extras.
Fast forward to 1987. That summer, I was having problems with my hands and feet being numb and cold. I was hit by a car at Washington Park in April. In the fall, a MRI test revealed possible demylenation disease, a nickname for multiple sclerosis. These problems were minor, so I continued to race, run Maglia Rosa and my law practice.
These problems began to magnify in 1991 and I was becoming more and more uncomfortable in the heat. In December I tripped and fell at my office and decided it was time to see the doctor again. After a battery of tests, the bad news, a confirmed diagnosis of MS. My wife, Marsha and I were devastated and feared the worst, life in a wheelchair.
At the end of January 1992 I was riding my bike again with my best friend Wolf Von Russow. We decided together to ride in Colorado’s MS150 and begin training. 1992 began my new cycling career, that of a recreational rider. It is the cycling adventure that changed my life and the course of my disease.
MS has taken much from me. I lost the sight in my right eye in the summer of 1992. It has returned to 70% vision. In 1994 I lost the sight in my left eye, and thanks to aggressive chemotherapy, I regained vision in that eye. Also in 1994 I had a melanoma removed from my right arm. In 1996, I lost the feeling below my navel for six weeks, which did return. I have had cataracts, a complication from an MS medicine and shingles, one of the most painful things you could ever get.
But MS has also given me my life back. I stopped racing in 1991, downsized my legal practice and learned that riding my bike was the way that I could help those with MS who couldn’t ride themselves. I have gone on to ride in 16 consecutive MS150’s; became one of Len’s assistance coaches in 1996 for his efforts with the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training program; and founded the Highlands Ranch Cycling Club which has become one of Colorado’s largest cycling clubs. Involvement in the fight against MS has allowed me to become friends with Maureen Manley, diagnosed also in 1991; Jef Mallet, the cartoonist who brings us the joy of Frazz; and one of the thrills of my life, riding next to Tyler Hamilton. That is one of the pictures attached. In one of the most ironic twists of fate, I have become close friends with Len Pettyjohn, who graciously coaches me to better performances on my bike and in the MS150.
My doctor has recognized the benefits of cycling to the extent that he has written a prescription for cycling as part of my fight against MS. I have been featured by the National MS Society in showing the power of the bike and how it can be used to improve lives of those with MS.
I can truly attest to the power of the bike to be an incredible instrument of powerful and beneficial change. I cannot even begin to explain the incredible experience of participating in the sport I have loved since I was a little boy and to do it not only as a means of controlling my MS, but as a way of helping others who suffer from this terrible disease.
I hope that you find my story meaningful in yours and Tyler’s efforts in the fight against multiple sclerosis. Thank you for all you do.