Three years ago, I was dying a slow death and didn't even know it. My vision was failing, as were my internal organs. It's a pretty safe bet to say that cycling saved my life. I'll take it one step further. If not for my bike, you wouldn't be reading this, and any references to me would be in the past tense.
My relationship with cycling spans more than three decades. My first bike was my ticket to anywhere. I'd hop on the glittering banana seat and head to lands not accessible by foot (the other side of town, for instance), enjoying the rush of adrenaline only a bike could bring.
Time passed and as it did, cycling got pushed further into the background of my life. There was my first car. My first girlfriend. My first job. My poor Sting Ray gathered dust. The memory of how thrilling a good ride felt melted faster than a snowball in summer.
Something else happened along the way: The ardent, youthful cyclist became an overweight middle-aged man. Tipping the scales at 250 pounds at age 45, I found myself in a career that put me in front of a computer screen for 50-plus hours a week. Somehow, eating a Twinkie held more appeal than an apple. I routinely chose a high-fat, nutrient-poor diet based more on convenience than health. And I paid the price.
Late 2006 found me experiencing a wide range of unexplained symptoms like rapidly degrading vision and unquenchable thirst. A call to my doctor prompted an immediate office visit.
"You have uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes," she announced. I was stunned. I was facing a future of potential blindness, nerve damage to my hands and feet, kidney failure, amputation and other complications.
My doctor, who has been my primary-care physician for many years, knows that bluntness is best for penetrating this hard head of mine. "Look at your feet. Either you use them, or you lose them," she said. I pondered the latter and chose the former.
For the first three months following my diagnosis, I walked. And walked, then walked some more. I was feeling better and losing a few pounds. I felt like an active participant in my journey to good health.
But then, in March of 2007, it happened. Walking one day, I heard the soft click of a shifter as a cyclist passed me. I was catapulted back to that earlier time in my life, that time of banana seats and curved handlebars. Three days later, I was back on a bike again.
Today, the staff of my local bike shop knows me by name. My exercise regimen, while viewed by some as a bit extreme, fits my life like a glove. Every morning, after dropping off the kids at school, I head out for a 15-mile ride. I still sit in front of a computer all day, but my lunchtime is now spent enjoying another 15-mile stretch. If there is no rain in the forecast, I take another night ride of five or six miles. There is something quite cathartic about watching the moon rise and the stars come out from the saddle of a road bike.
It's been well over two years since I hit my target weight of 170 pounds. Happily, I'm off diabetes medication, and I no longer have to monitor my blood sugar regularly. And I have developed a passion not only for cycling, but for life and health that I never would have had if not for my diagnosis in early 2007.
Funny thing about dropping close to 100 pounds: People are innately curious and ask how and why I lost so much weight. I use this as an opportunity to speak with folks about the risks associated with obesity and the benefits of cycling.
My initial waves of fear and shock at being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease have been replaced by a sense of immense gratitude. I am a passionate and only slightly obsessed cyclist. A bad day on my bike beats a good day at work anytime. Best of all, my perspective has changed. I am a survivor. I have beaten a dreadful disease, one mile at a time.
Go to Living-with-Diabetes.org to read more about how David beat diabetes.