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  • Mon June 27 2005
  • Posted Jun 26, 2005
By MARC HANSEN REGISTER COLUMNIST June 25, 2005 Whenever Bob Breedlove hopped on his bicycle and set off on some new superhuman quest, normal folks wondered why he put himself through it. Riding all the way across Iowa between sunrise and sunset. Pedaling from coast to coast in less than 10 days. Nobody in his 50s had done that before. But there's a huge price to pay. There's the agony and exhaustion. There's the risk of serious injury or worse. Why subject yourself to that? The gain can't be worth the pain. Breedlove slept two hours a night on that cross-country trip. He had a crew that included a doctor and a trainer who massaged his legs every night. He fought the sun, the wind, the traffic. He rode every day until his arms and legs must have felt as if they were about to fall off. When people told him he was nuts, he laughed and told them not to worry. A psychiatrist friend would be along for the ride. It must have been worth it because Breedlove did it again and again, and he did it with all his might. He did it to stretch himself, to test himself, to rise above the pain and other physical and mental limitations. He did it, he once said, to prove he still had what it took. Breedlove was trying to prove he still had it Thursday when he was killed on a road in Colorado. Drifting into oncoming traffic on a two-lane highway, Breedlove was hit by a pickup truck. He died unexpectedly, prematurely, tragically. A husband and father, he leaves a family that will miss him forever. An orthopedic surgeon, he leaves patients who admired him and relied on him. Competing in an event called the Race Across America, he died doing what he loved - which isn't the way it ends for most of us - and he understood the danger. A 53-year-old riding a bicycle that far that fast knows he's risking everything. But why did he love it so much? Why do people put their lives on the line climbing mountains, driving race cars, running with bulls, racing the clock and other cyclists from one end of the continent to the other? Breedlove didn't offer a profound explanation. Before making the 2002 ride from Huntington Beach to the Atlantic City boardwalk, he told Register columnist John Carlson this was his Mount Everest. George Leigh Mallory was the guy who said he climbed Everest because it was there. Mallory made a few other observations along the way. He said nothing practical would come of the climb. He said it was of no worldly use or value. If you can't understand "that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward," he said, "then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is sheer joy." I talked to a marathon runner about this. He knows what Mallory meant. The runner tried to explain the elation that comes at the end of a 26.2-mile run when a huge crowd is cheering your every step as you approach the finish line. He compared it with the thrill a die-hard Hawkeye fan might have felt on New Year's Day when the Iowa football team pulled off that last-second victory against Louisiana State. Not everyone needs Mount Everest to experience joy. George Sheehan, the late author/heart doctor/philosopher/distance runner, wrote about that in one of his books. "For every runner who tours the the world running marathons," he said, "there are thousands who run to hear the leaves and listen to rain and look to the day when it all is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight. "For them, sport is not a test but a therapy; not a trial but a reward; not a question but an answer." Whenever someone asked Sheehan whether running could prevent heart disease and prolong life, he sighed and said there was no safety in numbers - or anything else. He told runners that prolonging life wasn't the point of taking part in sports or strenuous physical activity. Running or cycling or swimming or hiking or horseback riding was about quality of life, not quantity. Forget about longevity, Sheehan said. What counts is what happens in the time we have left. Breedlove rode his bicycle not to live longer, it seems, but to live better. To live now.

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