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Lung Association bike ride helps give cyclists their lives back

COURTESY PHOTO - The Reach the Beach ride starts in Portland and ends at Pacific City, where bicyclists raise their bikes above their heads.Chris Horner has been a professional bicycle racer for 22 years and, as he likes to say, "I'm 10 years past the expiration date."

Mind you, it's not a cryptic statement; he means it's an expiration date past when most people retire from pro racing. "I say it with humor and immense pride," says Horner, 45, the former Tour de France and Olympics competitor from Bend.

A serious heart/lung problem may force him to finally retire, although he'll strive "100 percent" to race again, battling the health odds. If anything, he'll never give up riding his bicycle.

Meanwhile, activities such as cycling were once a life-or-death issue for Linda Godfrey, 58, of Portland. She had to be on medications to battle a lung disease and not be overly active and stay away from crowds to avoid getting sick. But, while attending a meeting with the Ride Like A Girl team, Godfrey was convinced to try the three-mile ride. One thing led to another, and Godfrey says bicycling helped save her life.

Horner, Godfrey and scores of other riders with similar stories will ride in the Reach the Beach ride Saturday, May 20, put on by the American Lung Association. Horner was invited to participate and visit with riders from Portland to Pacific City. He gladly accepted the invitation.

COURTESY PHOTO - CHRIS HORNERArguably, bicycling is one of the best exercises that gives people the second opportunity they need to be active, given health issues such as with the lungs and heart.

"It's the one exercise that doesn't come with a lot of impact — assuming you don't crash," Horner says. "It's easy on the joints. Every doctor will tell you it's an amazing rehabilitation sport. You can go slow and fast, mingle with riders at all different levels. You can see great adventures. I've done it training as hard as I can and done it where I've been discussing business with sponsors.

"There are massive different ways of enjoying the sport. ... Running and rowing are excellent, too; I can absolutely appreciate the other sports and how good they are for you. But I love cycling, I've done it since I was 13 years old. It's my go-to sport."

Horner's doctors are still trying to pinpoint what has been wrong with his lungs. Since the 2014 Tour de France, he hasn't been the same. Horner speculates that he picked up an infection, and he has taken many antibiotics.

He's not signed with a pro team and he's not riding in pro events this year. Doctors, he says, believe that he has a heart issue — patent formen ovale (PFO) — and that solving it will have a positive effect on the lungs.

"I understand what people with lung disease are dealing with," Horner says. He's not in grave danger, but he fears not being able to compete at 100 percent again.

"It's about time for retirement anyways," he adds. "I know some people who are happy to retire; I didn't think there'd be a point where I'm happy to retire. If I was healthy, I'd still be doing it."

Horner talks about being in top shape for many years, and it made his heart and lungs only stronger.

"The most important thing, if you're ill or you have a lung problem like myself, is to keep some fitness," he says.

COURTESY: MELANIE WOOD/HAPPY FEET PHOTOGRAPHY, INC. - Linda Godfrey (white helmet) gives much credit for her fitness through battling lung disease to the ladies of Ride Like A Girl, including leader Carolyn Jen (blue helmet).It's basically what dawned on Godfrey back in 2013, as she went on her initial ride with Ride Like A Girl and leader Carolyn Jen. Before then, she never envisioned riding, much less riding up hills, which she easily does now. Without her taking medication, she had "a death sentence."

About 20 years ago doctors thought Godfrey had come down with chronic bronchitis, and she spent four visits in the hospital with pneumonia. A consultation with a lung/pulmonary specialist and X-rays moved her toward possibly needing a lung removed for what appeared to be cancer. But a thoracic surgeon suggested she be tested for ABA (allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis); it was discovered she had ABA. She kept her lungs, but had to be on medications, steroids, inhalers and antibiotics.

"I would go for walks, and I tried to run but I couldn't," she says. "I didn't go to public events; if I got a cold I'd be back in the hospital."

Godfrey gave bicycle riding a try in a 2013 Ride Like A Girl outing at Eastbank Esplanade, wearing blue jeans atop an old mountain Schwinn bike. Three miles led to jaunts around the neighborhood to climbs and then to 50-mile and 100-mile rides.

"I just fell in love with it," she says.

Godfrey has participated in Reach the Beach each year. Jen has been a motivator, she says.

"Carolyn helps us discover the fun we can have on a bike," she says.

But Godfrey has gained her own experience.

Her advice? "Get out and try something," she says. "It's given me my life back. I go slow — I'm not a fast rider — and that's OK."

For more on Reach the Beach: www.reachthebeach.org.

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