Cancer survivor’s ‘world tour’ stops in Edmonds
Saturday was going to be a short ride for Randolph Westphal, from Edmonds to Everett. Between the wind and the rain, he figured that would be all he could muster.
He could justify the rest. After all, including his current ride, his sixth “world” cycling tour, he has amassed about 211,000 kilometers on the road. That’s about 131,000 miles for you Yanks.
The 55-year-old Westphal, from Frankfurt, Germany, began the first of his rides in 1987 after he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He was given six months to a year to live.
He attributed his cancer to too much stress in his life. So he packed up some belongings, hopped on his bicycle and rode 2,200 miles over the Alps, “just to prove I’m not sick,” he said.
Since then, Westphal has undergone 28 cancer surgeries, including four life-threatening procedures, and endured a near fatal hit-and-run accident in Argentina that almost completely severed his left foot and put him in the hospital for five years. Doctors said he would never walk again.
But Westphal keeps riding, spreading the message that cancer isn’t who you are; it’s a condition you live with.
Westphal rides with his faithful Alaskan malamute companions, Nanook and Chinook, who sit comfortably behind on a flatbed cart.
He has a sign on the front of his Raleigh Dover Lite Premium electric bike that states, “Never give up. Fight cancer.”
Telling his story in the lobby at the Edmonds Best Western Plus hotel, he said, “I accept my cancer as part of my body. No doctor can heal you. It starts in the mind.”
In 1990, Westphal began his first ride in North America. Traveling through the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada, he stopped for a checkup on his cancer condition. A doctor asked him if he’d like to talk to other cancer patients about his experience.
“I said, ‘I just want to live,’” Westphal said.
But several media outlets spread word about his story, and the next day 25 cancer patients were waiting to hear him.
“I started to cry,” he said. “I had never talked to people in my poor English before.
“So now I had a new destination.”
Westphal became a motivational speaker, addressing Rotary clubs, cancer support groups, hospital workers, university students and others. He was slated to address the Rotarians in Sedro Woolley today.
On a previous ride from Colorado Springs to Alaska and back, he set a Guinness World Record for the longest bicycle trip with dogs.
On this six-month tour, which began last May in Vancouver, B.C., he’ll ride through the Olympic Peninsula, part of Oregon and, eventually, head back to Alaska.
He is as frugal as a college student, living on about $10-$12 per day and depending on the kindness of strangers. The Best Western hotel chain has been providing him rooms at no charge.
Strangers haven’t always been kind. On that trip in Argentina, in 1996, the motorist who hit Westphal didn’t stop, leaving him in a ditch. His dog, Shir Khan – Nanook’s grandfather – was killed.
Besides the near-loss of his foot, he suffered major brain injuries.
“I lost my memory, lost my speech. I talked like Joe Cocker when he was drunk,” Westphal said.
“Doctors said I would never get out of a wheelchair.”
But people whose lives he had touched began reaching out to him, sending letters and encouraging him not to give up. He didn’t.
With five years of therapy and patience, he got out of the wheelchair, walked on crutches for a time, and got back on his bike.
He had another near-miss a few weeks ago when a passing truck brushed him and sent him tumbling. Some girls stopped and called for help.
“A doctor said a couple of more hours and I would have been dead,” Westphal said. “I had a heart infection.”
In a rare venture into politics, Westphal lamented America’s health care system.
“That’s a problem I can’t understand,” he said.
“Your president wants more health care and they say no. I don’t know why.
“You can die from a small infection because you have no money.”
He doesn’t know how much longer he’ll take these “tours.”
He has an artificial hip, has had knee surgery, suffered frostbite on one winter ride, and generally puts up with the pain of a body well worn.
“I have to take it easy. But for me it’s important to inspire people,” Westphal said.
“And I’m a lucky guy. A cat with nine lives has nothing on me.”
He also craves the road. His dogs are his only “family.” He especially loves the Great Northwest.
“When I get a bee in my pants, it picks at me. I have to get going,” Westphal said.
“And I love spreading my message.”
To learn more about Westphal, look for him on Facebook or his website, www.randolph-westphal.de/