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Memorial bicycle ride helps family heal

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - David Oliphant was exuberant at a bike race at Portland International Raceway. He made many friends among his fellow racers.

Sudden death of David Oliphant difficult on friends and fellow racers


It was easy to come up with the idea to have a memorial bike series for David Oliphant. A good friend said, 'Let's do a bike race for Dave.'

The result is the David Oliphant June Series going on each Tuesday this month at Portland International Raceway. Three races have been held and one more is planned for June 26. The event is capturing much local interest because although he lived in Beaverton at the time of his death, Oliphant grew up in Lake Oswego and attended Southlake Four Square Church in West Linn.

Oliphant's death on June 8, 2010, could not have been more shocking, sudden or sad. Along with his brother, Duncan, he was riding away after a race at PIR when he was stricken with a heart attack.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO -  Left: Duncan, left, and David Oliphant were brothers in and out of bike racing. Duncan was with David in the very last moments of his life. It was stunning that an incredibly fit 47-year-old man who had raced his bicycle 200,000 miles over the previous 10 years could die in an instant. It was unbearably sad because he was so beloved; by his family - his dad, Doug, his mother, Barbara, and his sister, Beth Hoover, all of Lake Oswego, and Duncan - and also his bike racing buddies.

But Oliphant also had great impact on the lives of many people he did not even know, because he had signed up to be an organ donor. Fifty of Oliphant's bodily organs were used to help 25 people.

'The donation that meant the most to me were the two corneas Dave gave away,' said Doug Oliphant. 'A mother of three children can see now.'

Because of Oliphant's great example, it was an easy decision for Donate Life Northwest to become a sponsor of the memorial race series.

'Anytime you're not just supporting a family but meeting and interacting with them it is pretty amazing,' said Mary Jane Hunt, executive director of Donate Life. 'The Oliphant family has embraced Donate Life and sharing the story of David as an educational opportunity about organ donation.'

'Every year Donate Life has a breakfast where 500 people show up and hear stories about the unbelievable amount of good done by organ donation,' said Doug Oliphant. 'It saves lives and extends lives.'

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Doug Oliphant, left, was a proud papa of his son, David. Doug has been a mainstay of the memorial race series that now honors David.'What is amazing is how grateful people are who receive organs,' Hoover said. 'I heard a man crying on the radio when he was talking about receiving an organ.'

Bike riders at PIR revere Oliphant because he was such an exceptional guy.

'Dave was a team leader and a good one,' said PIR track director Jeff Mitchem, who often competed against Oliphant. 'He inspired others with both his brains and his ability, which is rare. He could run a team and he could ride a bike. He had no sharp elbows or a big ego. He was out there to have fun and that was contagious.'

'Bikers were like family to David,' said Hoover, and that was apparent from the moment he went down. Duncan screamed for help and his brother was transported to the emergency room of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. All rules about people not being allowed inside the operating area went out the window as the clatter of cyclist shoes filled the room. Outside there were many more bike racers cheering for Oliphant to make it. When Hoover arrived on the scene, she collapsed.

After Oliphant died, the bike racers gathered to say goodbye a week later at the PIR track. Only the words 'amazing grace' could describe what happened.

'It was such a dreary, wet day. But when the rain cleared up there was this amazing double-ridge rainbow that appeared,' said Hoover, who captured the remarkable vision in a photo. 'The riders rode right into it as they rounded into the last turn. A lot of men were crying. There were 300 to 400 racers, so it rocked a lot of people. It was like we were being shown that God keeps his promises, that David is eternally with his Lord. We can take deep satisfaction that he is OK and in heaven.

'There was a huge mass of racers going right into the rainbow. There was so much joy at that moment.'

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - David Oliphant and his wife, Elvia, were a happy couple. She was willing to let him follow his passion of bike racing, as he raced thousands of miles every year.Thanks to the memorial race series, the joy will go on. Mitchem thinks this event will only grow in stature. There were 150 cyclists who signed up for the first race in the series, and that number is expected to rise in the coming years.

'This event is going to last awhile,' Mitchem said. 'It has a really good, healthy spot on the calendar, and the bike riders love it. We've got seed money from the Oliphant family and from the race itself. $600 (the top prize offered) is a big chunk of dough for a bike racer. This series has the potential to touch thousands of people. I would love to brainstorm more on how to grow it.'

Most important, the memorial series will be an excellent way to spread the message about organ donation.

'We're be looking at opportunities to engage an audience,' Hunt said. 'This is an excellent opportunity to educate and create ambassadors for us among bike racers. That is definitely part of our thinking any time there is such a personal story and one that is so relevant to them.'

'A lot of racers signed up to be donors,' noted Doug Oliphant.

'An event like this breaks down preconceived notions,' Hoover said. 'When I explained about organ donation to one biker, he said, ‘OK. I get it.' When you can break down the reasons for organ donation and link it with a story, the buy-ins are much, much greater.'

Hoover has a superb description of her brother's life and its aftermath.

'It's like a tapestry with all of the threads crisscrossing on one side,' she said. 'You flip it over and there's this beautiful piece of art.

'David would have loved this event. It's a meeting of his passions.'

For more information, go to donatelifenw.org.