Here is my story
I suppose in some respects, one could and many do say cycling saved my life. Allow me to go back a few years and explain. I started riding again after a nearly 30 years, I had been very active riding in high school and the first few years of college. My love of cycling started early in life while I was still growing up in Indianapolis. I use to race around on my Campus Green Schwinn Varsity, pretending I was in the Indy 500, stopping at the local store to make a pit stop and refuel with a Tootsie Roll bar. Later, now living in Laguna Beach, I use to ride that same Schwinn Varsity to school until one day a friend let me ride his Schwinn Paramount, one with Sew-up tires. Wow, it was like going from driving an old VW Bug to a Ferrari. Within a month I had bought an Atala, a 1972 Atala Record in Professional Fire Orange (International Day Glow Orange) with Columbus tubing and a Campagnolo Record Groupo. I rode that bike everywhere. I even had an independent PE class my final year of high school that allowed me to ride before school every morning, usually about 40 – 60 miles. Over the next few years, I was fortunate to have many great bikes to ride, Gois, Colnago, Ciocc to name a few. After college, I only rode occasionally but would still buy the odd bike now and then, though there was no serious riding, no long rides and certainly, no mountain rides as auto racing and cars became both my passion and in most ways my occupation.
After nearly 30 years of sitting behind a corporate desk and having a fairly sedentary life, I decided in late August 2011 I was going to enter the OC Grand Fondo, not the full one, but the 35-mile course. It was going to be my 56th birthday 10 days after the event and being able to complete the ride was to be my birthday present to myself. I pulled out an old PUCH I had purchased in 1987 which was built up in Campy “C” record groupo, a groupo I had stripped off a Ron Stout bike I owned. This PUCH frame was one of three frames The Bianchi Reparto Corse department had built for the Euro Bike show when Bianchi purchased PUCH and the only one that made it to the states. I worked my way up to the ride by starting to do 10 – 12-mile segments of the route every week, especially the hilly bids, just to make sure I could finish the ride – it had been that long since I had ridden.
Long story short, I finished that ride and my passion for riding was reignited. I little over a month later, I found the BOBies and started riding with them. In February of 2013, I completed my first Century, the one in Palm Springs in February. It took a couple of years, but I got to where I was riding 2-3 times a week and usually about 100 miles p/week – when work doesn’t get in the way. I love riding my bike!
Soon I was riding the Tuesday, Thursday night rides. At first, I wasn’t riding with them but rather hanging on for dear life in the back. One fateful day, Chris Manuit, who was leading the night rides at the time, asked me to take over as he needed to spend more time at home. I know he didn’t ask me because I was the fastest, but he must have seen something in me, or I was the only one that said yes. Probably the latter.
Finally, why I say cycling saved my life.
By now I was riding 2,250 – 2,500 miles a year for the past few years – a lot of it on the night rides which are very quick paced. Then in December of 2016, I was on a Tuesday night ride and just after the start, I got a pain going down my right arm. I would not describe it as sharp, but I would say intense, however, it went away after a few miles, so I blew it off. Two days later on the Thursday night ride, the same thing happened, but this time the pain was more intense, so I turned back after only a few miles. I never noticed this pain except when I was riding. In an unrelated meeting with my Doctor, not an office visit, I asked him and he said without test blah, blah, blah, but it might be cold weather asthma. I looked up the symptoms of cold weather asthma, apparently common with runners in colder climes, and thought, yeah that could be it. It had been very cold the times I had ridden. So I bought a scarf to wear to help warm the air before I inhaled it. Next came Christmas and I was off the bike for a few weeks as my wife Kathy and I visited our daughter in North Carolina. After we came back from Christmas vacation I went on a couple of rides with Janet and though the pain would present itself, it would go away after about five miles. Was the scarf working?
A couple of weeks later I went on the “Roadbike and CHills – Painted Dough Edition!” ride, well until the first hill anyway. The pain in my arm was so intense, that not only did I turn back when I got into my car I made a voice memo of everything I was experiencing and referenced my Garmin/Strava stats to give to my doctor.
Now the process starts – because it was the right arm and not the left, it was not immediately determined what was causing the pain. We start the process of blood work, chest X-rays (looking for cracked ribs that might trigger the pain), etc. Nothing showed up. So my doctor sent me to a Cardiologist. After only a few minutes the Cardiologist said, well we can do a stress test or an angiogram, but the stress test isn’t going to tell us everything, the angiogram will – what do you want to do? I had already done a little research regarding angiograms and for those of you who don’t know, an angiogram is an X-ray test where the Doctor uses a catheter inserted into one of your arteries and is guided by a camera (fluoroscopy) and then they release a dye at the spot of concern, in my case the coronary arteries to take pictures of the blood flow in each artery. This catheter that goes all the way to your heart usually is inserted through the groin. Then he said the magic words “I do my angiograms by going in through the wrist.” “Sold” came out of my mouth so fast I thought someone else had muttered it.
By the time all this testing had happened and waiting for insurance approval, it was now the middle of May when I went in for my angiogram. Now here’s a little medical history, I have been a Type II diabetic for twenty years, but for the most part, keep it in check. My cholesterol has always been in the 140s, though my LDL ratio was just borderline on the high side. My blood pressure had been good, though slightly high like 134 over 82. The day of the angiogram and armed with all this knowledge my wife and I were kidding before the procedure where we would go for a get-away once we heard the negative results. Then the procedure and waking up to my Cardiologist telling me he now knows why I was having the pain and that I would need a triple bypass. I was still coming out from under the Anesthesia, but needless to say, I was in shock. Remember I had ridden nearly 2,500 miles each of the previous three years.
The good news was I had not had a Heart attack and I didn’t need the bypass immediately. It was scheduled for 3 weeks after the angiogram – June 8th, 2017. After 6 hours on the operating table, overnight in the ICU, the very next day in Cardiac Recover the nurses told me I had to stand up and take a few steps. They spent several minutes telling me how they were going to support me and get me up as I would not have the strength. They started with a 1, 2 and I popped right on my own, they had to steady me but there was an almost audible gasp. How did you do that, they asked? I explained how much riding I did and then they made a point of telling the other nurses out how I could get out of bed and stand on my own. Oh, you’re the cyclist the other nurses would say when they would come into my room. Even my Cardiothoracic Surgeon cleared me to go back to work only two weeks after the surgery, except he wouldn’t let me drive to get there for a month. Every medical professional I ran into said two things, it was fortunate I got tested when I felt the pain and how that had most likely saved me from a heart attack and how all the cycling had aided in my recovery.
Well, I am back on my bike and even lead a Jamba Juice ride last Sunday (1/14/18). I hope you will agree with me that in a lot of ways, cycling saved my life, from my youth when I developed a passion for it to reigniting that passion in 2011. So listen to your body, it will tell you when something is wrong and exercise, which I do by riding because — I love riding my bike!