Heights rider reaches for the Rockies

Uh's Doug Bahniuk will ride in June to raise money to fight Parkinson's disease.

University Heights resident Doug Bahniuk is about to embark on a challenging bike ride—almost 500 miles across the Rocky Mountains, climbing six mountain passes with a total elevation of 28,265 vertical feet. Adding to the challenge is the fact that Bahniuk has Parkinson’s disease.

In an odd twist of the disease, many Parkinson’s patients have a hard time walking, but can often easily ride a bicycle. Despite about 55,000 new cases per year, Parkinson’s disease remains a medical mystery.

The cause of the symptoms is known to be a deficiency of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, but no one knows why there is a loss of the brain cells that produce dopamine in the first place. This inadequate amount of dopamine causes a Parkinson’s patient to lose the ability to control his or her body’s movements.  

Bahniuk is no stranger to long-distance bicycle rides. Three years ago he rode solo for more than 900 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Anchorage, Alaska. This year, June 8–13, he will join more than 2,000 others in a charitable ride called Ride the Rockies (RTR). Sponsored by The Denver Post, RTR raises money for various charitable organizations, including one specifically for Parkinson’s patients, the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. 

According to Bahnkiuk, two organizations are most actively involved in fighting the disease: "There is the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which funds research to cure Parkinson's, and there is also the Davis Phinney Foundation, whose mission is to help those with Parkinson's disease live well today. Davis Phinney (a world-class American cyclist during the 1980s and '90s who himself is now living with Parkinson's) emphasizes such things as exercise, stretching, dance, a positive attitude, and a healthy diet in conjunction with optimizing medical treatments to lessen the impact of symptoms. These are all things that help, and everyone can benefit from them now.” 

When asked about the difficulty of the upcoming RTR event, Bahniuk commented, “It’s a pretty tough ride, even for me. Pedaling over Loveland Pass at 11,990 feet and Berthoud Pass at 11,307 feet will be daunting tasks. During RTR two years ago, I was nearly defeated by the high altitude in combination with my Parkinson’s when riding up Independence Pass, which stands at 12,095 feet. Dizzy, unsteady and exhausted, I walked with my bike for a mile before reaching the summit.”

Bahniuk said, “Bicycle riding has been shown to lessen multiple symptoms of Parkinson's. It helps improve writing, coordination and balance. My neurosurgeon says that I’m an outlier. I guess I’m just lucky that I chose bicycle riding as my principal form of exercise.”

The public is invited to meet Bahniuk and his neurosurgeon, Andre Machado, on Sunday, May 18 at a benefit dinner at the Sherwin-Gilmour Party Center, 5947 Mayfield Road in Mayfield Heights. Tickets, $45 per person, include dinner, a silent auction, a raffle, and a talk by Machado about deep brain stimulation, a treatment for Parkinson's.

Reserve by Friday, May 9 by calling 216-932-7500. If you are unable to attend the dinner but would like to mail a donation, send a check, payable to Davis Phinney Foundation, to 1722 14th St., Suite 150, Boulder, CO 80302. Please note “Doug’s Wild Ride” or “Doug Bahniuk” on the memo line.

Alissa Ealy

University Heights resident Alissa Ealy is a mother, cyclist, and histotechnologist at the Cleveland Clinic, and she is married to Doug Bahniuk.

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Volume 7, Issue 5, Posted 5:03 PM, 05.02.2014