Australian cyclist Geoff Thomas spent 156 days and traveled over 9,000 miles on the very same bicycle that he used to ride from coast to coast in his homeland, Australia. Geoff set out on his bicycle towing the custom single wheel trailer from New York City on April 28th 2007. His goal? To ride his bike on a “lap” around the USA.
Geoff told me that he wanted to accomplish more than just riding from coast to coast across the United States as many have done. Geoff set his goal much higher. He wanted to do an actual lap around the US by mapping out his course from New York up into the northern states and then continue on until he reached the west coast in the state of Washington.
Then bike south down the west coast before heading back east to cross the lower southern states traveling mostly on side roads and ending his southern ride here in Melbourne, Florida before heading up the east coast returning to his original starting point New York City.
Now, of course Geoff has cycled long distance rides before and although he had set this lap around the USA as a personal goal he wanted to put it all towards a cause. Geoff was diagnosed with Lupus in 2003 and quickly learned that the disease is not only mysterious, but it is also not well known. It is for this reason that he began to contact different Lupus organizations about sponsoring his lap so that he could raise a bit of charity money for them, but more importantly to create a better awareness of the auto immune disease.
I first learned about Geoff Thomas, The Lap and Bikeusa2007.com when I found an article about him in The South Bend Tribune. By this time he had already put over 800 miles behind him and he was still looking for a charity to contact him so that he could promote their cause. Being a member of Lupus.org and reading his story, gave me the idea that I wanted to help Geoff establish a communication with the Lupus Foundation. I sent an email to Geoff and contacted my local chapter for the Lupus Foundation trying to help get them together. I was delighted to receive a response from Geoff by email and we continued to communicate from then on. Very shortly after, Geoff had finally made contact with the Lupus Foundation and he posted the news on his web site www.bikeusa2007.com that he was riding for the Lupus Foundation. As Geoff continued on his journey, he began to pick up even more charity organizations as well as a few more dealing with Lupus. He also began to draw the attention of some of the mass media and local newspapers and television stations would catch up with him when he rode into town.
I was happy to learn that Geoff’s plans were to bike on into the southern part of Florida and I would get a chance to meet him as he was going to be stopping in to Melbourne, Florida. The”other Melbourne” as many refer to my city, as opposed to the Melbourne Vic Australia. Geoff and I communicated by email and then later by telephone and he had expressed that he wished to do a lap on the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. I thought that was a great Idea and it would seem that something of this nature would generate a great deal of media attention which would benefit promoting Lupus awareness and give the Daytona Speedway some attention for something that had not been done before.
I started the task of trying to make contacts with the media relations department at the speedway. When I say it was a task, I mean I spent 3 days being tossed from one department to another and from one person to another and nothing accomplished but leaving unanswered voice messages on speedway executive’s voicemail boxes. It seemed I was hitting nothing but dead ends in getting this accomplished, so I turned to a mass media reporter for help. It seems nobody ever wants to talk to you once you announce you are an independent news writer and journalist. Of course making contact and getting a mass media journalist to hear you out is another task as well. However, I did finally talk to a real person at a local news station for Daytona and Orlando area. WESH channel 2 news reporter Claire Metz was good enough to answer my telephone calls and sent me the names of media contacts at the Daytona speedway. She seemed interested in the story, if I was going to be able to get Geoff on the track.
I finally was able to talk to the lady that organizes track activities and I explained how I wanted to get the track opened for just a small amount of time in order for Geoff Thomas to ride a lap on his bicycle around the speedway track. I pointed out that this was for a good cause and how we wanted to try and bring more awareness to the disease. This lady blew me away when she told me that she would have to charge me mega-bucks for just those few minutes and it would not be worth my effort. Okay, so much for the Daytona International Speedway being a charitable corporation. So much for being able to get any type of news coverage in the Daytona Beach area. I really hated having to tell Geoff that I had met a total dead end in Daytona, but he took it well and continued on toward Florida.
As he approached the Melbourne area in Brevard County, I tried to get some coverage in the local newspaper Florida Today. I called the chief editor and explained that I had a really great human interest story and told him about how Geoff was riding his bike around the USA and had already covered 8,000 miles. I told him about Lupus and how the disease was not well known though it has developed in over 1.5 million Americans. Well, this guy proceeds to tell me how “people do things for charity all the time” and referred me to his cycling editor. This is just the type of apathy and uneducated people that I was trying to reach. The very same people that I was trying to get involved in the media, were just not interested! It is the same type of apathy toward Lupus with our government when funding is passed out for research on diseases.
Quick fact: 1.5 million US citizens suffer from lupus, the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD, USA) allocated only US$88 million for research in 2005, down from US$96 million in 2003. Lupus will receive another US$25 million from non-profit organizations, according to Duane Peters, Vice President for Advocacy and Communications at the Lupus Foundation of America (Washington, DC, USA). There are about one million patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the USA, and research received a total of US$2,981 billion from the NIH this year.
This makes no sense!
When Geoff arrived in Melbourne we talked by telephone and agreed to meet at the motel he was staying at in Melbourne Beach the following day. Geoff was diagnosed with Discoid Lupus, the very same type of Lupus that effects Cindi, the love of my life. Cindi and I went over to meet with Geoff and spent an hour or so just chatting with him and talking about the many things that he had experienced during his ride around the country.
As we were talking I started looking at this bicycle that had traveled across Australia and now was doing a lap around the U.S. I noticed this bike has no pedals! I have never been a big fan of bicycle riding myself, but every bike I have ever owned had pedals.
Seems that a real bicycle made for this sort of trip has no pedals. Instead, there are special shoes designed with a metal tab that slides into the clamp where a pedal should be. So, we learned a little more about Geoff and his equipment and talked about how people really need to be more aware of the disease Lupus. Meeting Geoff in person it was easy to understand how he was able to accomplish such a fantastic journey. He is in great condition, of course, but more importantly he is a very laid back guy. His out look on life, the trips he has experienced and all the obstacles he ran into along the way was you just got to keep movin on mate.
Geoff is an inspiration for both Cindi and myself and it was a pleasure to watch him meet his goal.
So, what is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can target your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs. The great majority of people affected are women. For reasons that aren’t clear, lupus develops when the immune system attacks your body’s own tissues and organs. Three main types of lupus exist — systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), discoid lupus erythematosus and drug-induced lupus. Of these, SLE is the most common and serious form of the disease, frequently causing swollen, painful joints, skin rash, extreme fatigue and kidney damage. In rare cases, mothers can pass antibodies to their babies during childbirth (neonatal lupus erythematosus), though the mothers themselves usually show no signs of lupus. The outlook for people with lupus was once grim, but diagnosis and treatment of lupus has improved considerably. With proper care, most people with lupus can lead normal, active lives.
No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Signs and symptoms may come on suddenly or develop slowly, may be mild or severe, and may be temporary or permanent. Even the distinctive rash that gives the disease its name “lupus” is the Latin word for “wolf” because doctors once thought the rash resembled a wolf bite doesn’t occur in every case. Most people with lupus have one thing in common, however, and that’s the tendency of the disease to get decidedly worse in episodes called flares and then to improve or even disappear completely for a time.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that instead of just attacking foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses, the immune system also turns against healthy tissue. This leads to inflammation and damage to various parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain.
Someone YOU know has Lupus!
Like the disease itself can be mysterious and misunderstood, so too can the Lupus patient. Being supportive of your loved one or friend that has Lupus is important, but understanding them is very important. Aside from the effects of the disease itself, the Lupus patient will be effected by the medications that they have to take. Understanding that just because they don’t look sick, they are is important. If they say they do not feel well, understand that they truly do not and be supportive of them. I love Cindi very much and I am supportive of her and understand her when she can’t sleep or is emotional. If you have a friend or loved one that has Lupus, show them that you care by listening to them and understanding them. Join a support group in your area and attend the meetings with them. Get involved and become a Lupus advocate by writing the government. Explain your outrage to your congressman and senator in the amount of funding given to other groups with less effected. Remember, the noisy wheel gets the oil!
Be sure to visit Geoff Thomas’ web site www.bikeusa2007.com and read more about his lap around the USA. His site is full of interesting stories and facts like the fact that he had 44 flat tires during his journey!
Read more on Lupus and get involved at www.lupus.org
Participate in the up coming Walk for Lupus Now!
Meet Cindi Odom
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