In the spirit of the season, we want to share with you a story of thanksgiving from Coalition member Michie O’Day. Michie’s story is one filled with challenges, a bicycle and her uncanny ability to face each day with a smile on her face.
It’s no exaggeration to say that cycling has changed my life. If you have a few minutes, I’d like to tell you a bit more about my background, a few words about my disabilities, how I became a cyclist (again) at age 54, and lastly share what cycling has taught me…and hopefully those around me.
But first you need to know something about my health. My deafness and mobility issues stem from a rare genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis (NF) that causes benign tumors to grow in my brain and around my spinal cord. I was diagnosed with this when I was 26 years old. Since that time I’ve been to hospitals all over the country, had too many MRI scans to count, radiation, and 6 major neurosurgeries for a total of 36.5 hours on the operating table.
Such things can turn your life upside-down. But we all face challenges, and I’ve never wanted to let mine detract from a full & happy life.
Balance has been an issue since my first neurosurgery in 1983 when I had a tumor removed from my acoustic nerve and vestibular function was compromised. I had to give up skiing and bike riding at that time. There were other losses and adjustments along the way, but things didn’t get bad until 2008, when further surgery left me with a paralyzed right leg. This was not expected. With a lot of work and rehab, I was able to regain most of the use of that leg, and I was glad to get out of a wheelchair. But recovery was not 100%, and long, brisk walks – which I’d loved since I was a teenager – are now only a memory. Today, I use trekking poles or sometimes a walker to make sure that I stay upright.
I won’t kid you… It’s been tough. But I’m optimistic by nature, and I’m pragmatic. So when my hearing went kaput in my 39th year and I had to give up my career in nonprofit fund raising, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I seized the opportunity to follow my heart and start fresh as a painter in Stonington, Maine – which I loved even more. Two years ago when it was clear that my poor coordination was affecting my driving, I gave that up and got rid of my car. Stonington is the most beautiful place on earth, and I’d be there still, but it’s not a good place to live without a car. So last year I moved to Portland, and that’s where my cycling story begins….
I used to walk past Gorham Bike & Ski on my way to the drug store on Congress St. One sunny July day, about a year ago, as I was plodding along with my walker I looked at all the shiny new bikes in the window and thought, “Hmmmmm…. I wonder if they sell trikes for grown-ups?” Then I thought, “Nah…. even if they do, it would be expensive and I’m still recovering from moving costs.” So I kept walking. I got about 10 feet past the shop, stopped, turned around and went back. It couldn’t hurt to ask.
Fast forward to August 6, last year, and I’m riding home from the shop on my new Sun EZ Tadpole 21-speed Recumbent Trike. I cannot describe my excitement to you! It was great fun to ride (like a go cart – only better) and it was something I could DO! After giving up swimming, skiing, hiking, bike riding, power walking… the trike opened up a whole new world for me.
By the end of the first week that long hill going up Western Prom was my warm-up and I was going on 5-7 mile rides. That may not sound like much to you, but it was a lot for me. I now aim for 50-60 miles per week. My longest ride has been 25 miles. My next ceiling is a 30-mile day, and then I’d love to start venturing further than Falmouth to the north or Prout’s Neck to the south. That will take some planning, but it will happen.
There is only one person who is possibly more amazed than me with the results of my cycling, and that’s my neurologist in Boston. He says my leg strength is rock solid. I think he’s humoring me, but I tell you after the right leg paralysis — over four years ago — there is nothing more beautiful to me than seeing that leg pedaling furiously – or even slowly – as I’m going up a challenging hill.
Cycling has done many good things for me. It’s made me stronger physically. That’s no small thing for a person with my medical history. It’s made me more independent. I LOVE not owning a car and using my trike to get to the beach or grocery store and other places I want to go. And it’s led to new friendships. When communication is challenged by deafness, it takes time to meet new folks and some friendships never gel, but a shared passion for cycling is a nice basis for mutual respect and support.
I want to conclude by sharing my outlook with you. To counter each loss caused by NF, I have always sought to benefit — to learn from it and to become a better, stronger, and more loving person for it. With deafness, the benefit was easy: my art. With the mobility loss in 2008, it was harder, and I am still coming to terms with that. But I can tell you this: If I could still take my brisk, long walks, I never would have been in the shop asking about trikes.
As Jean Paul Richeter (1763-1825) wrote, “For sleep, riches and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.” It is no exaggeration to say that riding a recumbent trike has restored vitality to my life.
Cycling is a gift! When I’m out riding, I notice the trees, the wildflowers, the sunlight and shadows, the sky, the people around me, and dogs! When I see and sense my surroundings from the trike I’m amazed again and again by how beautiful it all is. When I’m cycling I feel a sense of freedom and empowerment that I haven’t known in years. And, if along the way, I can inspire others to cycle more and take care of their precious good health, my experiences will have meant something.
For more information on Michie and her artwork, check out her website here.
Portions of this newsletter were taken from a speech that Michie gave at the Common Ground Country Fair. The Coalition is greatly appreciative for Michie’s willingness to share her story. Thank you for being thankful.