Take 5: TJ Forrester bikes through Summit to eradicate muscular dystrophy
August 8, 2016
TJ Forrester is pedaling across the country to stop muscular dystrophy in its tracks.
Muscular dystrophy is a terminal disease that afflicts its victims with progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. Four months, 24 days and around 4,000 miles ago, he pushed off on a journey, called "Ride Between the Stars," that will take him and his bike to the four corners of the United States (Maine, Washington, Florida and southern California) to raise awareness and funding for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
He plans to finish his journey in the next two years. This summer, he is making his way to Seattle, Washington for the northwest corner of his trip.
This weekend, Forrester inched closer to his goal as he pedaled through Summit County. When talking to him, it's not surprising that he's ready for such an undertaking. MD hits close to home for the middle-aged adventurer: He lost two brothers to the hereditary disease while growing up. On his blog, tjforrester.blogspot.com, the published author opens up about the cruel havoc that it wrecked on him and his family.
"Imagine life as a carefree child, then finding out someone you love, the person you are closest to in your world, has a terminal illness," reads an excerpt from the blog. "The pain of that awareness was so crushing I couldn't deal with it as a boy. I slipped into an emotional deep-freeze, distancing myself, avoiding … but the disease was right there… . How did I feel about their deaths? I felt angry and still do."
The Summit Daily sports desk spoke with TJ to learn more about his adventures on the road and his passionate motivation for eradicating MD.
Summit Daily News: Why did you decide on biking across the country to raise MD awareness?
TJ Forrester: I wanted to do something that put me in touch with as many people as possible, while also creating publicity on a larger scale.
SDN: Tell me about your brother's struggles with MD.
TF: Dystrophy is a terminal disease that robs its victims of their muscles, and the legs are the first to go. Both David and Eddie began falling down at a young age — around seven or eight — and both were in wheelchairs by the time they were twelve. They gradually lost all use of their muscles. David died at the age of 20, when his diaphragm gave out, and he could no longer breathe. Eddie had a longer life span and died in his mid-thirties. They both were bright and kind, good people, and I never heard them complain about their circumstances. Life was very unfair to my brothers.
SDN: What has been the highlight of your trip so far?
TF: Colorado. I love Colorado, walked across it when I through-hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 1998, and I looked forward to seeing it since leaving Key West so many months ago. Your mountains are stunning, and your people are some of the best I've met in my travels.
SDN: Any wild adventures along the road?
TF: The wildest adventure I've had so far was facing down a night-person who wanted my wallet. He didn't get it.
SDN: You're in Colorado now and have biked across nearly the entire country. What has this experience been like?
TF: Cycling across the country, meeting well-wishers in state after state, has reaffirmed my belief that America is made up of good-hearted people. People really do care about people, especially at the grassroots level, and my trip is the better for it. The experience has also been filled with adversity, like all good adventures, and I can't wait to see what happens next. I've written about some of them in "Ride Between the Stars."
SDN: How have people reacted to your mission?
TF: Strangers have taken me into their homes at night, bought me dinner, talked about cycle-touring, my brothers and life in general. One man, a gentleman running a booth at a fair in a small town in Kansas, had tears in his eyes when he shook my hand. He explained in a halting voice that his father-in-law suffered from MD, and we talked for a long time about what an important role the Muscular Dystrophy Association plays in funding research for these diseases.
SDN: Where will your ride continue from here?
TF: I'm riding between Key West, Florida to Seattle, Washington to San Diego, California to Bar Harbor, Maine, then back down to Key West. These are the four stars in Ride Between the Stars, and I will conclude my ride at the point it began.
SDN: Have you ever done anything like this before?
TF: I'm a hiking triple crowner: through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in consecutive years. I love long-distance adventures, and Ride Between the Stars is more of the same. This adventure, though, is different from the others because its purpose is raising awareness for MDA, instead of simply going out for fun.
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