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Why I rode for asthma: a reflection
"You’re riding for asthma?" A quiet dark-haired woman in jeans and a checkered long-sleeved shirt stepped out of a red pick-up truck at the dusty and desolate road intersection fourteen miles west of Glasgow, Montana. Rubbing the grease from his hands as he finished replacing a blown out tire on my tandem bicycle, my husband Lorenz looked up and nodded. As the scorching June heat floated up over the lonely sagebrush prairie, we began the familiar story of our family’s world cycling tour for asthma. We had begun the ride almost a year and a half ago in Washington, D.C. on World Asthma Day--May 7, 2003. Along with our two daughters—Yvonne, now 12 years old, and her 14 year old sister, Anya—we had almost completed a full 15,000 kilometer circuit around the world through 24 countries and four continents.
From Greece to England; along the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe to Russia; through Mongolia, China and Asia; to Australia and New Zealand; and, now, on our final stretch across the U.S. and Canada, we had spoken to over 150 newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations about asthma.
"I’ve had asthma since I was a toddler," I explained to the woman. "People don’t take it seriously," I added, painfully remembering years of emergency room visits, days of lying in oxygen tents in the hospital, and weeks staring miserably out of my bedroom window wishing I could run and play like my friends. What a miracle that with proper medication and care, I could pedal around the world now. "So we’re trying to educate people and raise awareness and money for asthma," I finished as Lorenz righted the tandem to adjust the front brakes.
The petite woman nodded grimly and reached into the cab of her pick-up. Tears streaming down her face, she pressed a $50 bill into my hands.
"I lost my son to asthma," she whispered hoarsely. "This is for him. He was only thirteen."
As the pick-up truck faded into the distance, a dusty cloud in its wake, I sighed. It was on days like this, with the heat beating down, scorching our faces and parching our tongues, that I often wondered what on earth I was doing pedaling around the world. Yet each time I wanted to cry out and turn home--feet soaking from a day long downpour in Estonia; hands frozen from a winter snowstorm in China; lips parched and cracked as flies swarmed around us in Australia—a hopeful child or a struggling father would turn up, sharing their dreams of a world free of asthma. And so we would pedal on.
A week later in Garrison, North Dakota, a plump, pink-cheeked woman in a floral print dress handed me a $5 bill as Anya and I selected a red tomato from the produce aisle in the local supermarket.
"A little girl in our community died from asthma last month," she looked at me earnestly. "Thanks for doing this."
Around the world, people shared tales of sorrow and hope, struggles and triumphs as they battled personally with asthma, each story moving us forward. We cried after a haunted looking store-keeper in Australia related that a happy day of surfing a year ago had turned into a nightmare; his brother had died from an asthma attack far out in the ocean waves as he watched helplessly. We cheered when a cyclist from Ontario, Canada emailed us to say that our ride had inspired him to pedal across Canada that summer, despite his asthma. We smiled when a bald headed monk wearing a knitted hat in Taiwan related that he controlled his asthma by wearing warm clothing and eating only cooked food. And we felt proud when a cyclist from Pittsburgh, PA wrote, "You all are spreading hope to many people, and inspiration to those such as myself who daily struggle with shortness of breath, inhalers, and the stigma of those with asthma. However, your mission is proof that asthma does not have to control people’s lives."
On August 28, 2004 our family pedaled the last of our journey’s 9332 miles into Washington D.C. At the Fletcher Bay boathouse, we were greeted and congratulated by Washington representatives from the mayor’s office, from the Asthma Coalition, from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation and from the League of American Bicyclists. As we held up our awards and plaques, I felt honored to be recognized by these various outstanding organizations. And yet, perhaps the greatest honor of all was given a few weeks later by a thirteen-year-old girl in an email to Anya and Yvonne: "As soon as I read your article [in Teen Magazine] I was blown away. I have been waiting for someone to do something like Biking for Breathing for the past five years. At the age of 7 I was diagnosed with asthma. Over the last 5 years my asthma got worse and worse until last year I was in the hospital for a week. Every day I pray that someone would raise enough money so that scientists and doctors could find a cure. All I wanted to say was thank you. You are my hero!"World Bike for Breath
P.O. Box 11581
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Updated: December 4, 2004