By Sarah Elmquist Squires
At 60, Dan Hughes took a left turn on his career path and went from the construction field into the medical one, working as first a certified nursing assistant and then a restorative aid. Hughes, who is now retired, absolutely loved it. “I really like working with the people,” he shared. “It’s amazing how incredible people are. Everybody has a story.”
One of those stories really hit home for Hughes. While working in long-term care, he met Tom Cleveland, who suffers from Huntington’s disease. It’s a degenerative disease that has eroded Cleveland’s movement and other abilities, and he now requires the use of a wheelchair. The trouble is, explained Hughes, Cleveland doesn’t have the specialized type of chair that Huntington’s disease requires.
Hughes was just considering retirement and dreaming of ways he could challenge himself, when he realized he could combine his new love of long-distance bike racing with a mission to get Cleveland the wheelchair he needs. Thus, “Ridin 4 Tom” was born.
Hughes is setting off on the daunting “Bike Nonstop U.S.” race on June 18, leaving Portland, Ore., and riding nonstop across the U.S. to Washington, D.C. And he’s doing it for Cleveland, asking for sponsors to make donations for the new wheelchair, estimated to cost around $6,000.
“I decided I wanted to do something impossible,” Hughes said of his decision to join the epic race. After training since he retired last summer, “It’s not as impossible anymore, but it’s impossible for Tom, so that’s why I’m dedicating the ride for him.”
Hughes started biking at 60, and since he retired last June, he’s logged over 11,000 miles on his bike. Even so, the Bike Nonstop race isn’t for the faint of heart. “It’s 12 states, mixed terrain, self-supported – no help, and the clock never stops,” Hughes explained. “So it’s how fast we can do it.”
And, there’s no prize money, no hoopla, as Hughes describes. Once the racers get to D.C., they just come home with a big bag of bragging rights. In Hughes’ case, he hopes to return having raised enough money to help Cleveland with his wheelchair needs.
Hughes is gearing up for the race’s start, but in this case, he might be gearing down: Long-distance bicyclists can’t be bogged down by heavy equipment. He’s to a lightweight sleeping bag, a tarp, and an extra pair of socks, along with a few other necessities. “The motto is ‘Go light and freeze at night,’” he laughed.
Although Hughes is pushing ahead with this race as a way to challenge himself, the heart of the mission is his friendship with Cleveland. “With the years of training, it looked more and more doable,” he said. “And then I saw Tom and the need … For those of us who can do something, we should do it. I’m the type of person who hates regret. Pain is one thing … pain and fear are always temporary, but regret is until your final breath … As far as I know, you only get one shot at this.”
If you’d like to donate to help raise funds, visit gofund.me/13cfe3e4; donations may also be made to Central Bank and Trust “for the benefit of Tom Cleveland.”