Adventures in life and photography out West

A new life

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“This is my first organized ride,” says the guy on the next sleeping bag over.

We’re in the relatively plush ballroom in Steamboat Springs after the longest day of Ride the Rockies and the place is pretty quite, as most are out enjoying the sunshine.

“Oh yay? What possessed you to do this ride for your first?” I ask, expecting some kind of self-help related story from the forty-something. What Chris White shared would be a lot more than most would overcome in a lifetime. To a degree, I suppose you could say, this is his second lifetime. He intended to make the most of it.

“I was in a car accident that killed my grandmother,” White said, “I broke my neck, C2. It’s commonly called the hangman’s break.”

White suffered two heart attacks in the hospital as a result of the trauma. After that, the heart issues, combined with some bad habits and a stressful career, combine to do more damage.

“I was a chef for a private club. I worked for Duke University and University of North Carolina for a combined 10 years,” White explained, “I was offered positions in Hawaii and Denver. I chose Denver.”

A chef’s eating schedule is erratic, at best. It gets interrupted and chefs will make quick and bad eating decisions. This lifestyle can quickly devolve into poor health and obesity. If a heart is already damaged, stress can make matters worse. White’s heart became enlarged and developed an arrhythmia. He suffered congestive heart failure in his mid 40s in 2011, requiring surgery. After he took steps to restore his heart beat to normal, White realized he had a second chance.

“I could restore my heart to the condition of a 20-year-old, if I wanted.”

And Whited wanted. After recovery, White took steps to take control and lessen stress. He discovered road cycling, or fell in love with it, while volunteering at last season’s USA Pro Challenge final stage in Denver. While watching the event, White met sprinter Peter Sagan’s personal assistant. 

“She was so impressed with my story that she took me to meet Peter. After all he had done, all he accomplished, he stood up and congratulated me.”

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Shortly after, White decided he would go all-in.

“I moved to Deckers for the altitude training and fly fishing,” White explained, “I work for a little mom-and-pop place, now.”

This after working as a banquet chef for the Denver Country Club. His eating has changed, as well.

“I realized I had to have the right food for energy. With clean living, exercise and diet, I lost 120 pounds in 17 months.”

White credits his new routine, including eating breakfast regularly and a lot of two-wheel time.

“I’m usually up about 5 or 5:30 am. I make my power breakfast and am out to ride by 6:15.”

Breakfast often consists of a breakfast burrito with plenty of fresh spinach, oatmeal and fresh fruit. White likes a salad with beans for lunch, post ride. His ride is usually 30-60 miles on the roads between Deckers, Woodland Park and Sadalia, Colorado. White embraced the new life style, and while he lost lots of weight, he gained a bit more than he expected.

“I’m able to process stress better on the bike. Time doesn’t exist,” he explained. “I also have epilepsy, and through cycling and exercise, I’ve been able to manage the stress and triggers.”

So now, the chef who should have died years ago has a new life and wants to share it with others.

“If you can identify your triggers and manage them, you can live a life free of seizures and medications,” but he was quick to add, “not always, but sometimes.”

The anti-seizure drugs given to epilepsy patients can make them lethargic. This can quickly snowball into obesity, especially in children and adolescents. White hopes to help kids see cycling as a possible alternative to medication.

Thanks to his new found love of riding, he has also found new friendships. White entered Ride the Rockies alone, but he quickly found he would not be lonely.

“I don’t think I have ever fallen in love with 2,000 people so quickly,” White smiles a dimpled grin. “It’s an instant feel of family. Everyone is in this together. Everyone has a unique story. There are people from all over the world. Everyone, I believe, is on a personal journey but having this many people together with the same mind set is truly amazing.”

In the five days that we are together, White makes friends easily. He has a warm smile and personality to match. He charms the Jamaican ladies at a little taco stand in Steamboat Springs. He easily converses with frame-building legend Kent Ericksen, founder of Moots cycles and his own brand, Ericksen Bikes. White makes friends with the traveling yoga instructor, even receiving an invitation to teach some cooking. Nothing would compare, however, with the evening in Avon. White shared his big goal with me.

“I’ve signed up with the USA Pro Challenge Experience. I would like to ride with Chris Carmichael’s team and do all seven stages of the Pro Challenge.”

I met Carmichael during last year’s RTR and thought, what ever I could do to help White would be good. Carmichael was the Cycling Seminar speaker in Avon on the ride. I spoke to Carmichael, hoping he might remember me. I explained that White had a story that the coach needed to hear. Carmichael gave me his card to give to my new friend and explained he, White, needed to hurry. Space was filling fast.

I saw White moments later and pointed him in Carmichael’s direction. He returned nearly in tears.

“He said they’re going to work with me on the fee. He said they want me on the team. This has changed my life.”

After a lot of hugs, I reminded him that he did the work. This was the happy payoff.

White has a few more things he wants to do. White would love a lighter bike. He would like a bit of new technology. He would also like to find balance. It will all come. He’s not afraid of the work. White has done so much so far. Blood work looks great and he feels it is all due to his work on the bike. For the price of near death, he has been given a new life and a new purpose.

“I spent years after breaking my neck and the hear issues trying to figure out why I was here,” he explained. “I think that God put me hear to help kids with epilepsy. I feel the mind is so powerful that if you believe and you have faith, you can overcome anything.”

Chris White is proof positive. Very positive.

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