From chemotherapy to triathlon one pedalstroke at a time. When life throws you a curveball - hit it! A story of hope found in cycling.
About six and a half years ago in May of 2014, I had just finished my Bachelor’s degree and went to the doctor for a routine physical before heading off to graduate school.
I was moving 10 hours away, across the United States and felt it was important to have a routine check up done before I go.
While driving to my new home, I received a call that my lab results showed some alarming numbers and I needed to come back. Shortly thereafter, I would be diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy (Buerger’s Disease).
This is a disease where an antibody (immunoglobin A) builds up in your kidneys.
The first doctor I ever had told my parents that within 6 months I would either be on the transplant list or starting dialysis. However, being a dumb 22-year-old, I felt invincible. I always dismissed it as not being so dire, thinking “well it’s not my brain, heart or lungs, how bad can it be?” Luckily, my second kidney doctor had a bit more of a realistic outlook. He said it was something we needed to seriously address but it wasn’t immediately life threatening. This began a treatment course of almost 4 years of high dose steroids and 6 months of chemotherapy. I still tried to keep a positive attitude about things and felt invincible.Luckily, I reacted well to the treatments and have since gone into remission.However, from the time of my diagnosis until the winter of 2018 I was also constantly busy like crazy in graduate school, finishing my Masters degree and beginning (though I did not finish) my Doctorate.I carried scars of my treatment both physically and emotionally, just not realizing it.
Here are pictures of me, with my now wife, in July of 2014 just after graduating and in July of 2016 when we got married. The high doses of steroids made me balloon to a different person.
In the Winter of 2018 I got a great job opportunity which would send me back to my hometown. How does this fit in to my cycling journey? This is when I was first introduced to cycling. The attorneys I worked for and one of the paralegals I worked with all cycled. I never thought of cycling as an activity to do for any reason other than as an intense workout. I had no idea you could do this for “fun.” Many times, during lunch they would take off on their bikes to go for an 18-20-mile ride over the lunch hour, and I thought they were a bit insane.
Pedal to the metal
In the summer of 2019, I had a bit of an existential crisis with my disease. I did the one thing I had not done since I was diagnosed, I started to read about having chronic kidney disease. And unfortunately, the prognosis I found on the internet was not necessarily a “happily ever after” scenario. While there is research to suggest that I may stay in remission the rest of my life, never progressing to the point of needing dialysis, it felt like I was tied to railroad tracks and I could hear the faint sound of a train, but never knew where it was or how fast it was coming.
At that point, I realized I needed to actually get serious about my health, or I was going to be adding more coal to the engine of that train coming towards me.
I asked the people in my office for advice about what kind of bike to buy and had a fairly meager budget in mind (I should have read up more on this). I went to a bike shop, Queen City Cycles, in Springfield, Missouri and said, “hey I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m looking for a bike.” These guys were fantastic. They set me up with a new Kona Rove gravel bike. I thought this would be great because in my fantasy land, I thought I would be riding tons of gravel. It sounds like a blast! I took my bike out and my first ride I covered 7 miles. I thought this was a huge accomplishment and I was so proud to just get the process of exercising started.
I was very fortunate to have encouraging people around me that wanted me to get into the cycling game.
One of my co-workers, Jim Phillips, said he’d take me on my second ride ever. In 2019, Jim covered right around 11,000 miles and is an extremely strong rider (he in fact just finished the 1,000+ mile Arkansas High Country Race in approx. 7 days). There aren’t too many people you meet in life that are really good at something that are willing to do it at a very slow pace. If you find that person, hold on for dear life because that is a true friend. At that point, I was hooked. I started posting on Instagram and found that there were tons of other people that looked like me riding bikes. I was introduced to XLBiking (thanks Ebbe) and found that I was not alone. Cycling is something that has not been an activity, especially in the arena of clothing, that is friendly to bigger people. I kept posting and realized there were people that I guess wanted to follow my adventures. I thought it would be perfect to do whatever I could, whenever I could to advocate for inclusivity within cycling.
After getting my feet wet in 2019, I kept on keeping on in 2020. I realized I did all of one gravel ride since getting my gravel bike and so maybe a gravel bike wasn’t for me as a daily rider. I went back to my friends at QCC and bought my first road bike, a Bianchi Infinito XE. I absolutely LOVE this bike. It is all carbon and felt like I was trading in a houseboat for a speed boat. I was encouraged by an acquaintance from work that I should consider entering a triathlon because they’re a blast. I thought why the heck not! I signed up for my first local triathlon (150-yard swim, 6 mile bike ride and 1.5 mile run) and was stoked about it! I then signed up for my second and loved every second of it.
In 2020, I got the chance to meet more cyclists/runners/triathletes in my community who also cared about being inclusive. I got the opportunity during 2020 to become the social media person for Springfield Brewing Company Athletics (thanks Neil!). Jim introduced me to Jessica Pearson and she invited me to join The Greatest Escape group ride in which I met even more people who cared about inclusivity in cycling! This was a group that didn’t care how fast or how skinny or how long you had been riding but rather, are you in for a fun time and want to learn how to ride in a true pace line (which is wayyyy easier on tv during the Tour de France). I found that no matter who I was riding with, competing against, meeting through social media, no one cared what my body looked like and my insecurities started to disappear. They just cared if I wanted to have fun on a bike. I became a brand ambassador for AeroTech Designs. This is a company that genuinely wants to make cycling clothing for people of ALL sizes, not just Lance Armstrong-esque bodies.
Right here, right now
This leads to now. I have (maybe masochistically) signed up for a 70.3 Half Ironman in Des Moines, Iowa in June of 2021. It makes me ask what’s next. I no longer care about the train that could (or could not) be heading towards me on the tracks because
I have found something I love, I am getting exercise, am getting control of my health, and have found a community of people that are full of love and support.
My wife and I have enjoyed getting out for fun together on our bikes (she rides the Kona), and loves being there on the sides to cheer me on in triathlons. As people of larger bodies, XLBikers, we need to focus now and in the future on demanding companies recognize that we’re here, supporting companies that do put people of all body sizes into their plans, and most importantly, supporting one another whether that be once we can be more physically present or just simply reaching out on social media to give each other encouragement. I don’t know if I would still be on a bike today if it weren’t for the people around me both physically and virtually but it’s starting to make the sound of that train feel more and more distant.
- Oh, hi I'm Dylan, I'm trying to pedal harder! Nice to meet you!