Last week I came across this truly inspiring story which a friend shared online.
Overweight since childhood and bullied throughout his life, by the age of 30 Ernest Gagnon had become a 570 pound recluse who rarely left his New England apartment and whose only comfort was food.
Prone to anxiety attacks in public and afraid to work out because he felt someone his size would be harshly judged at most gyms, he eventually developed Type 2 diabetes and was given a stark choice by his doctors: undergo gastric bypass surgery as a last-ditch attempt to lose weight, or die. Ernest did neither. Instead, he began riding his bike.
Two years later, Ernest’s life has changed completely. He has built up to riding five to six times a week, lost more than 200 pounds in the process, and brought his blood sugar back into the high normal range. Just as impressively, Ernest has made friends and conquered the social phobia that left him so terribly isolated for the early part of his life.
Using Facebook as a vehicle to connect with cyclists, he began riding with local racers even though at the very beginning he was only able to ride a mile around the parking lot. But with encouragement and acceptance from his new cycling buddies, he kept going -- from one mile to one-and-a-half miles and then 22 miles and now to a USA Cycling license and the goal to compete this fall in cyclocross, which are like a cross-country bike race with obstacles. Far from holding his racing friends back, this unlikely cyclist became their inspiration as they watched him overcome barrier after barrier.
Cycling is full of inspiring and amazing examples of what people can do once they get two wheels underneath them. Some of these stories are far beyond the reach of most of us: mountain bikers riding off-road and unsupported for a full month to complete the grueling Tour Divide. from Banff to the Mexican border or elite racers pushing themselves through sleep deprivation so extreme they’ve been known to hallucinate on the bike during the non-stop Race Across America. But stories such as Ernest’s are no less inspiring and the effort to so thoroughly turn a life around is no less superhuman.
A bike can be many things: A utility vehicle for grocery shopping; environmentally friendly transportation; a means of losing weight and getting in shape; a way of getting to places that are hard to reach by car or slow to reach on foot. But a bike can also be a source of inspiration and motivation for overcoming challenges.
In the book The Totem Pole, British climber Paul Pritchard recounts his struggle to recover from a traumatic brain injury. With limited movement in the right side of his body, even the shortest walks became an immense challenge. Then Paul spotted a recumbent trike and realised this was something he would be able to control in spite of the complete paralysis on one side of his body.
His descriptions of the sudden freedom that came with his first trike ride, the sheer joy of the speed and the wind in his hair, are deeply moving. It’s stories like Paul’s and Ernest’s that make you realise just how truly life-changing a bike can be.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist, librarian and outdoor enthusiast who believes that bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at sidecut.ca, or contact Kay at email@example.com.