RAGBRAI XLII Countdown – July 20-26, 2014
Friends of RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI news team

Munson: Disabled riders push ahead, with a bit of volunteer aid



Colfax, Ia. — This is Mark Block’s fourth RAGBRAI, 25 years after his first three rides.

I met Block on Thursday morning when he pedaled by hand to the side of the street in downtown Colfax in search of a cooling neck band.

“My biggest nemesis is the heat,” he said.

Most of the 10,000 official riders on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa might agree, but we’re talking more than mere annoyance for Block, 45, who lives in Ankeny.

He’s had two spinal cord injuries. Twenty-five years ago after a car accident, he turned 21 in the hospital and was told he would never walk again. He began walking within two months.

But then two years ago Block fell and hit his head, bruising his spine and suffering a mild traumatic brain injury.

Now, he has trouble feeling below his chest. His body temperature and blood pressure are prone to wild fluctuations. His vision gets blurry, and he loses balance.

So Paul Lantz of West Des Moines and Andrea Baumgartner of St. Louis were on hand in Colfax to provide support for Block as one of a dozen disabled riders this week on the inaugural Adaptive Sports Iowa RAGBRAI team.

“Volunteering for this, it’s one of those deals where you get way more than what you give,” Lantz said.

The team is led by executive director Mike Boone, 29, whose inspiration began with his dad, Charles, who went blind from type-1 diabetes by the time Boone was 2. Charles later died from complications of his diabetes in 1991.

Boone himself is a healthy sports nut who was raised north of Denver, Colo., but eventually made his way to Iowa to earn a master’s degree in public administration at Drake University. He and his wife, Joni, live in Ankeny and just welcomed their first child five weeks ago, daughter Jani Eileen.

Boone came from a state where every ski resort had some sort of program and adaptive equipment for the disabled. So he saw a need in Iowa, as well as an opportunity to merge his passions for sport and work with the disabled.

His original brainstorm was to found a nonprofit to create local recreational sports for the disabled. But a chain of networking led him and his program to be taken under the wing of the Iowa Sports Foundation of Ames, and he began working as full-time director in December.

Team members include Vern Willey, a dynamo who’s ridden “somewhere around 20″ RAGBRAIs and logs 4,000 handbike miles per year.

But Thursday was a little tough, even for him: He was part of the RAGBRAI committee in Altoona, where he lives, and stayed up until 1 a.m. having fun before he woke up 3½ hours later to ride.

Willey, 61, broke his back and injured his spinal cord in 1997 when he flipped over the front handlebars of his bicycle outside of Dubuque – during mile 101 of a 106-mile ride.

But six months later to the day, Willey was skiing on a Colorado mountain. And he rode the same bike ride the following year.

I didn’t dare try to keep up with him, but I did trail Mario Bennett and Eric Kinman for a short stretch.

Bennett, 34, was stricken with polio at 10 months old and also pedals a handbike.

Kinman, meanwhile, is one of the volunteers who has divided his time this week riding alongside Bennett and also on a tandem with blind bicyclist Tai Blas.

Wednesday was a good day for Bennett: the first day he completed an entire leg of RAGBRAI.

He loves hearing the encouragement shouted by fellow riders:

• “Hey, low-rider!”

• “You’re an inspiration!”

• “Go, Adaptive Sports!”

Thursday’s hill rolling out of Colfax, however, was monstrous. I walked it.

Bennett put up a valiant fight as Kinman coached him with how to shift down through the bike’s 27 gears. But Bennett snapped his front brake cable, so the pair had to turn around for repairs.

One killer hill can be a temporary obstacle, but the theme of this RAGBRAI debut for Adaptive Sports Iowa seems to be all about pushing ahead. The team is gaining momentum.

Blas, for instance, is headed this fall to law school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Bennett also plays wheel basketball every Thursday in Ankeny — another of Boone’s adaptive programs.

Boone is putting together a team to compete in a world series for blind baseball players next year in Ames.

Block, meanwhile, said this RAGBRAI ride “has more meaning than any of them for me.”

But he also reacts to this rolling circus just like the rest of us: “The nice thing about this whole event is the people you meet,” he said.

No matter how we pedal, we’re all just sweaty, sore people.

4 Responses on “Munson: Disabled riders push ahead, with a bit of volunteer aid

Rose Farver

July 29, 2011 at 7:58 am

I’m proud to be Vernon Willey’s niece. He’s an inspiration to his family!

Linda Munson

July 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Drew Campbell of Gifford is riding RAGBRAI for the first time in three years due to Lyme disease. We are so proud of his success. Keep on pedaling Drew, and all the other amazing athletes.

Carolyn DeCora

July 30, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Way to go Mario, very proud of you cuz.

Laurie Gillard

July 31, 2011 at 7:44 am

I was so impressed by the adaptive riders~they were out on the road with all the others and just cranking along with the best of them. They certainly looked great in their jerseys!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Advertisement

Latest Blog Posts

  • Top 10 things we'll remember about RAGBRAI XLII

    After 42 years, each ride can seem pretty much like the one before -- except when they don't.

  • Conquered: What cyclists defeated to finish RAGBRAI

    This was only my fourth time on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and yet I struggle to conjure an appropriate description of this bizarre, beloved pilgrimage that ...

  • Colorado couple undaunted by RAGBRAI's tiny hills

    Dave and Kathi Dibbern perched themselves on a tree stump Saturday in Garber, the final pass-through town before RAGBRAI’s finish line in Guttenberg. They ride a tandem bicycle. And they’re unafraid ...

  • Video: How does it feel to finish RAGBRAI?

    Riders react at the Guttenberg dip site.

  • Video: Whoa! RAGBRAI riders overlook the scenic view in Guttenberg

    Riders stopped for photos on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River at Guttenberg.

  • "Strawberry Shortcake" greets RAGBRAI riders

    The 15-year-old Starmont High School student hands out strawberry hard candies to RAGBRAI riders in Strawberry Point

  • Video: Iowa's favorite bachelor steals hearts on RAGBRAI

    Iowan "Bachelorette" competitor Chris Soules greets riders in Strawberry Point

  • Iowa's favorite bachelor steals hearts in Strawberry Point

    A tire dip in the Mississippi is a rite of passage for RAGBRAI riders - but a smile and a hug from Iowa's favorite bachelor was the must-have photo opportunity ...

  • Best library on RAGBRAI? This couple knows

    David and Marianne House say small town libraries are like a big window into a community. So they’ve stopped at nearly every one along the route of the 42nd Register’s Annual ...

  • What to look for Saturday

    It's the final day of RAGBRAI XLII. Here’s a quick look ahead toward Saturday’s 69-mile ride from Independence to Guttenberg and the Mississippi River

Latest Videos

  • A group of friends from Canada spent the week on RAGBRAI and recount their best moments.

  • As RAGBRAI XLII comes to an end, friends from California talk about the emotion behind dipping their tires into the Mississippi River at the end of the ride.

  • Riders react at the Guttenberg dip site.

  • Riders stopped for photos on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River at Guttenberg.

  • Iowan "Bachelorette" competitor Chris Soules greets riders in Strawberry Point

  • Former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL tight end Dallas Clark talks about his second RAGBRAI and his hope of someday moving his family back to Iowa.

  • The LeBeaus are known as royalty in Iowa and for their funky socks!

  • Jason Pardie, of Muscatine, is participating in his sixth RAGBRAI on a unicycle.

  • The LeBeaus are known as royalty on RAGBRAI and for their funky socks.

  • A Dutch woman describes the differences of biking in the Netherlands and biking in Iowa.

Find us socially

Email Signup

Sign up for the latest RAGBRAI news and notes (if there is no news in a day, you won’t get an e-mail).

© 2014 RAGBRAI | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy