Wednesday, August 8, 2018


August 4, 2018
A day I never expected to face — I had no idea how I would prevail until I realized I was there before…

The ride for 2018 Bike MS finally arrived. For the last 14 years, the day sent a surge of adrenaline through my body. The anticipation, the buildup and outreach, the fundraising, all prepared me for this capstone event. I was always eager to fulfill some of my lofty goals set during the months prior; I was always planning on smashing every milestone reached the year before. Nothing prepare me for the gaping hole I would feel on August 4. The scars of my struggles over the last year were still fresh, my significant physical and emotional damage had shut me down throughout the winter months. Praising the fact that I bore and persisted, I celebrated my recovery this spring — boasting my return to everything “normal” in my life. Truthfully, I am improving but there is so, so much more I need to work on before I’m back to where I was/where I need to be. Nothing in particular blew holes in my plan, just the actual proverbial (and literal) rubber finally meeting the road!

My mind struggled with doubt as my body executed a well-polished routine in the morning. Getting dressed, gathering and checking over all my gear, prepping my trike. Even the tasks I had forgotten about (like my much-needed ankle brace) were completed naturally, as if nothing had ever changed. My fears over what my body was capable of continued to persist, however. All of my friends were supportive, excited to see that I made it to this year’s event. One question was a common theme: “How far are you going to ride this year?” That was fair, as my recent bike MS history continued to dwindle: 102, 64 33, 32, 19, 32 miles.

Every time the question came up, I simply responded: “Somewhere between 10 feet and 32 miles.” I am a pro and masking my fear and apprehension with humor…

Procrastination and delays exhausted, the time finally arrived. I removed my full leg brace, strapped on my ankle brace, and slipped into my bike shoes. The increased difficulty standing up with my clip shoes only exacerbated my anxiety as I less-than-gracefully eased down into my recumbent. As I sat, in the moment my eyes blinked closed and reopened, every recollection, every vision, every sound, and every emotion flooded my mind again.

It was July 7, 1999.

Twenty-six months after a car accident and subsequent severe closed head injury grounded me from flying, I finally slipped into the cockpit of an AH-64 Apache helicopter once again! As I connected the two dates, everything suddenly made sense. The preflight jitters — stepping into my flight suit, mission planning, preflight inspection of my equipment and aircraft. I executed every task Saturday morning with the same muscle memory, and the same apprehension, as I did back in 1999.

I grabbed the steering bar on my trike the same way I grasped the cyclic. My face made no attempt to conceal its smile as I gently ran my right thumb over the controls. “Hello again, my friend!” My bike shoes clipped into the pedals as I reached over to store my gear in the saddlebag; my boots rested on the pedals as I reached over to store my gear in the cockpit’s side-pocket. With my helmet strap snapped, my bike and aircraft were both ready to get underway. As I stepped through the final tasks, neither process was interrupted by giddy elation or nervous anticipation. The only momentary distraction was the joy I felt this weekend as I reused the same line 19 years later. “It’s just like riding a bike, Kevin.”

As I pulled out of my tent area and headed over to the start line, the world once again felt normal. Without hesitation or fanfare, I hit the start line and smoothly launched down the course. In Korea, the only additional step was my copilot, my instructor pilot, and his startled reaction. As the Apache gently lifted off the runway and rolled into a climbing left turn, I commented on how I wasn’t sure it would go that well considering I had not flown for 2-plus years.

Everything indeed went well once again, just as it had so many times before. My anticipation in the days and weeks preceding, though proven unnecessary at the time, was essential in preparing my body and my mind — on both occasions. Neither ride will be recorded as anything other than another short, uneventful, flawless event. In my mind, however, the thoughts of triumph over crippling setbacks paint two of the images I hold close. The peaceful satisfaction, the same in both rides, is something I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully describe; I only hope you have such a moment to hold close.

This will not last.

I crossed the finish line on Saturday and took a moment to celebrate my glory, but I knew moment was drawing to an end. Soon, I would struggle to rise from my trike. Pain, weakness, discomfort, and setbacks – those are but a few of the words ready to reintroduce themselves. None of that mattered to me. For 19 miles, everything was as the way it should be. There was no doubt, only comfort and confidence.
For 19 miles it was 1.9 hours on July 7, 1999 — 39 days before my hands went numb — 90 days before I was tentatively diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

August 8, 2018
Bike MS continues to hold a special meaning in my fight against MS. It is the method I choose to show thanks to the national MS society, my friends, and my supporters; it is my method of raising funds and awareness for the struggles so many of us face – and will continue to do so. Personally, it has been a method of consistently measuring the loss which compounds year-over-year. 2018 bike MS, for the first time in a while, as highlighted targets for me to set my sights on as I push to strengthen and improve. My body has been beaten and bloodied for years, endured a 300-plus days siege, and launched a counterattack!
Because it is a fight.
The fight is not over and it won’t be over until a cure is found.
It will never stop…nor will we
It will never quit…nor will we
This is why we ride!
Never Stop… Never Quit…®
Kevin Byrne
Portland, OR

Never Stop… Never Quit… Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.

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