2,800 miles to Memphis
Kyle Bryant was cycling somewhere outside Van Horn, Texas, with a left knee that felt like it was going to explode.
The Bear River High School graduate wasn’t even halfway through his 2,800-mile tricycle trip to raise funds to fight his rare and progressive disease, Friedreich’s ataxia.
“I got a cortisone shot the week before I started, but (the knee) got to me the first couple of weeks,” said Bryant, 25, and now an environmental engineer living in the Sacramento area.
The trip to battle the nerve and muscle disorder that makes Bryant’s gait wobbly and could claim his life started Jan. 22 in San Diego. It was supposed to end March 22 in Memphis for the annual National Ataxia Foundation Conference.
Something like divine intervention and a lot of support from family and friends saw him pedal into Memphis two days early, exhausted but exalted.
But as Bryant, 25, was riding his recessed tricycle into Van Horn, he knew his knee was not going to hold up unless he got some medical help, and quick.
“I had a buddy in Midland, Texas, I had met at another ataxia conference two years prior,” Bryant said. “He got me into a hospital the next day.”
That helped, but Bryant also knew he had to do something to his trike as well if he were going to make Memphis.
His uncle, Steve Bryant of Montana, was on the trip for support. He suggested his nephew shorten the crank on the left pedal so that he wouldn’t have to put pressure on it while pedaling.
Kyle was talking with his Midland friend and his buddy’s dad at the hospital about the crank, saying he had to find some place to get the work done. It turns out his friend’s father was the top guy at a local machine shop, and the crank was altered quickly.
“Two absolute amazing coincidences,” Kyle said. “I’m confident we couldn’t have gone any further. We were 500 miles from half way.”
Kyle had a changing entourage throughout the ride, including old family friends Wally and Mary Krill of Nevada City, his Uncle Steve, and his father, Mike Bryant of Lake of the Pines, who rode with him on a regular bicycle for every grueling mile.
“There were parts as a parent that were very, very tough,” Mike said. “I could see that he was in pain and one night, I had to carry him to the showers.”
50 miles a day
With the Krill’s motor home and mom Diane Bryant pulling a trailer, the entourage was able to get some shelter and clean rest at night. But the 50-mile days weren’t easy, with the younger Bryant only able to get power from his right leg and pedal after Van Horn.
They had already survived logging trucks coming by at 60 mph in tight southwestern mountain spots, and would soon hit a short stretch of no pavement at all in Louisiana. But there was something pushing them on.
“After a while, I think we made ourselves think that we would be out there forever, so we had to take it one day at a time,” Kyle Bryant said. “We had a lot of flat tires, but we only ran into bad weather five days. It was insane how it worked out.”
The trip served to solidify the Bryant family’s close bond, which has been made tighter by Kyle Bryant’s ataxia.
“It was a great experience to work with them on something we believed so strongly in,” Kyle Bryant said. “It wasn’t about us.”
As they wove their way north from Louisiana, the Mississippi River and the Natchez Trace enthralled the cyclist, but not everything was beautiful. Here is an entry from his blog about road kill in the Bayou State:
“We have seen an unusual array of road kill lately – cats, dogs, snakes, frogs, turtles, rabbits, armadillos, opossum, hawks, a coyote and bobcat,” Kyle Bryant wrote.
By that point in the trip, dead things in the road were almost trivial as Memphis beckoned. Kyle had drawn media attention all along the way and educated people at stops about Friedreich’s ataxia. But he reached another milestone in Memphis that he called his proudest moment of the experience.
Bridging a divide
After being feted at the convention for his efforts and given a standing ovation for a speech, Kyle Bryant found himself bringing ataxia’s two major organizations together for the first time.
He had raised $40,000 by the time he got to Memphis, and he wanted the organizations to chip in for a research grant.
“The National Ataxia Foundation and the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance had never worked together before. It was kind of sad,” Kyle said. “I talked to them separately and they said ‘Hey, maybe we should work together here.'”
They both contributed $30,000 to round out the $100,000 Kyle Bryant Transitional Research Grant, which will be awarded in June to medical professionals.
Basking in the glow in Memphis, eating Beale Street ribs and partying with friends, Bryant realized the trip “had been fulfilling beyond my imagination. I was relieved because this was the thing in my life for the last two years, but it was an absolute group effort.”
Part of that group was the Krills, who showed up for support for the second half of the trip.
“It was an absolutely amazing feat,” Mary Krill said. “We all had our doubts because it’s hard enough to ride that far when you’re well, but he did it with difficulties and rode all the way.”
Steve Bryant’s wrote in his nephew’s blog during the trip: “The amazing thing I see happening is that, because of this ride, Kyle is becoming a source of hope for many ataxia sufferers and their families.”
Back to work
Kyle Bryant is back to work now at Brown and Caldwell in Rancho Cordova. The rock star attention from the trip is beginning to wane. He appreciates his employer holding his job for him while he took more than two months off.
“It’s a bit of a letdown coming back from something so meaningful, but now I have to pay my dues,” Bryant said. The disease remains, but even that he sees as more positive because of all the tricycle riding.
“I’m in the best shape ever and I’m going to keep it. I truly think I’ve stopped it or reversed (the ataxia) a little, because I don’t get up thinking I can’t make it through the day anymore. Sometimes I used to just really feel bad,” Bryant said. “I think vigorous exercise is smoothing things out.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@the union.com, or call 477-4237.
Kyle Bryant started riding his Ice Q Recumbent Trike back in college when his Friedreich’s ataxia made balancing a two-wheeled bicycle difficult. The trike allows him to sit as he rides. Bryant is luckier than most ataxia victims in that he can still drive, ride his trike and get around in a wheelchair.
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