riding for a reason

This time last year, my daughter motivated me to participate in the MS Ride in Mount Vernon Washington, about an hour north of us.  It was a great experience for both of us.  This was her farthest ride to date, and it was an opportunity for me to share the time with her.  We also got to raise money for the MS Society, a cause we both believe in – helping people living with Multiple Sclerosis.  My mother and uncle both live with this condition.  Watching them face this with courage and grace is incredibly inspiring.

I wasn’t entirely surprised when my daughter expressed interest in riding for MS again this year.  But we were heading off on a trip overseas, so we deferred our decision until we returned – just a couple of weeks before the big ride.  But what did surprise me was that my father decided to join us.  He has lived with chronic back pain for many years, undergoing multiple surgeries over time, and his mobility has been seriously affected.  Back in April, he had hip replacement surgery.  This was a difficult decision, as it wasn’t clear that it would address some of the more serious pain.  It was the least invasive of two procedures he was considering, so he decided to chance it.

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The first day, following the surgery, he was already testing his limits.  He was annoying the medical staff and his family by getting up and around on his own.  When we were able to ignore his risk of falling, we felt encouraged that he wanted to be up and around so soon.  Over time there were good steps forward, and some reverses.  Then at some point, he started hitting the gym, and spending time on the recumbent bike.  One day, when we were heading to a baseball game, he reflected that he’d surpassed an hour on the bike – just two and a half months or so after the surgery.  Wow.

Then he got the idea that he’d like to do the MS Ride – benefitting the MS Society.  In addition to numerous services they offer people living with MS and their families, the MS Society also funds lots of research – furthering prospects for treatment that help people live with MS, and working for a cure.  He was in shape to do it – there was just the matter of finding a suitable bike.

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The week before the event, Dad spoke to a good friend of ours and got a loaner recumbent bike (thanks Mitch!).  This would remove any risk that he’d fall and re-injure his hip.  In the days before the ride, we started fundraising, ultimately raising over $1600 combined.  Everything had come together very nicely.

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The morning of the ride got off to an exciting start.  I set the alarm incorrectly, and woke up a bit late.  We hit the road nearly a half hour later than we’d intended.  We were getting close to the deadline for starting the ride.  We arrived in Mount Vernon, and parked in the same place we had last year – about a half mile from the start.

After scrambling to put our numbers on as they counted down, we were off.  My daughter left us in the dust right away.  Dad and I peddled through the town, and then headed out on the long straightaway which comprised most of the ride.  Almost immediately, my dad recognized that the riding this bike was more difficult than the stationary bike he’d trained on.  That was a concern – especially since he’d not really ridden this bike very much prior to the event.

Directly behind us was the sweeper vehicle, which made me nervous.  It’s possible that they would discourage us from sticking with the ride, as we were in the back.  But they turned out to be very nice, and encouraged us to stay with it as long as we wanted – offering great moral support and even helping me find the bolt to reattach my pedal when it fell off several miles into the ride.

It felt like the first half of the ride was us simply getting a rhythm.  He’d adjusted the seat to improve his leg extension, and that seemed to help.  About two miles from the turnaround, my daughter came riding back the other way, heading for the finish.  Seeing her fly by smiling was great! 

Then about a third of a mile from the halfway point, we came to a long hill.  Dad stood up, clearly in some pain.  His hip was cramping, and he was feeling the fatigue.  I thought there was a good chance we’d call it a day then.  Given what he’d demonstrated in getting to the start, this still would have been a huge achievement – even without finishing.  When we regrouped at the halfway point, we reviewed our options.  We could catch a ride back to the start, and call it good.  Or we could give it a try, and call for aid if we needed it.  Not surprisingly, Dad said he’d like to give it a try – and so we did.

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The road back was a bit easier.  We had a slight tailwind, and the day was warming up a bit.  We settled into a steady pace, and also took some short breaks when we needed to.  Before too long, we’d covered most of the miles. 

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As we headed over the bridge that took us back into downtown Mount Vernon, I asked him how he felt now that he had over twenty miles under his belt.  As we rounded the corner heading into the finish, we could see Mom, Kris and my younger daughter cheering us on. 

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I’ve crossed my share of finish lines before, but this one was definitely very special.  I’d gotten to share the experience with a man I love, who surprised himself and the rest of us by making it to the starting line.  And on the day of the event, he showed us what it means to push through challenges. 

And we did this in support and celebration of two people we love very much – Mom and Uncle Stephen.

A great day for a ride that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

many of these pictures were taken by Susan David.  These and other pictures taken at the event are available here.

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