Small step, big ride: Danny Chew gets first taste of outdoor hand-cycling
February 20, 2017 12:00 AM
Cyclist Attila Domos, top, and Danny Chew, the famed Pittsburgh cyclist who was paralyzed in a biking accident, ride around the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Sunday in Highland Park.
Danny Chew gets a hug from his mother, Sally, at the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Sunday in Highland Park.
Paralyzed cyclist Attila Domos, left, looks on as Danny Chew adjusts his helmet before riding.
Danny Chew gets assistance from Attila Domos on Sunday.
Danny Chew is interviewed by a local film crew at the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Sunday in Highland Park.
Danny Chew gets a hug from former WTAE_TV anchor Wendy Bell on Sunday.
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Danny Chew had been looking forward to this for a long time.
On Sunday, for the first time since he was paralyzed Sept. 4 from the chest down in a biking accident, Mr. Chew, the iconic Pittsburgh cyclist and founder of the Dirty Dozen bike race, was able to try out a hand cycle outdoors on the road, and not just on an indoor stationary hand cycle that he has used regularly since October.
“This is a key stepping stone,” he said before his ride on a warm, sunny day that was key to allowing him to even try it, because he still has trouble regulating his body temperature. “There’s a big difference between an indoor hand cycle and outdoor.”
But because Mr. Chew, 54, said a big part of his emotional recovery from the devastating injury has been his legions of fans’ support through emails, letters, texts and visits in Chicago — where he initially did rehab — or Ohio — where he has been living with a friend — this was never going to be a quiet event.
Mr. Chew said two days earlier he hastily invited 30 friends — many of whom have not seen him in person since before his accident — to come watch him on his first hand cycle ride at the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park.
Danny Chew gets a hug from his mother, Sally, on Sunday. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
Not surprisingly, word spread beyond those 30, and more than 50 came to watch and wish their friend well as he prepared for his first ride and then attempted to ride 20 miles — a goal, he was warned, he would have to adjust.
“I told him, ‘There’s no way you’re doing 20 miles,’ ” said Mr. Chew’s friend and inspiration, Attila Domos, who also was paralyzed in an accident — from the waist down — and now is an avid hand cyclist.
While Mr. Domos has been inspiring, perhaps his best benefit to his friend has been his version of tough love that was on display Sunday afternoon as Mr. Chew tried for the first time to get himself into a hand-cycle.
With the crowd of friends and family watching, and a documentary film crew tracking every moment, a friend lifted Mr. Chew from his motorized wheelchair to the ground so Mr. Chew could attempt to pull himself into the hand cycle. But it was Mr. Domos who laid down the law.
As someone attempted to move the hand cycle closer to make it easier for Mr. Chew, Mr. Domos — who was injured 23 years ago and famously insists on living in a non-handicapped accessible home so he has to pull himself up stairs to get in — insisted he not: “No. No. Let Danny do it. Don’t help him. He’s got to do this himself. I don’t care how long it takes. If it takes an hour, we’re going to get it done.”
Slowly, but surely, with Mr. Domos telling him where to place his hands, and how to maneuver his body to inch it into the hand cycle, Mr. Chew got in — albeit with some final assistance from a friend.
“See, you’re going to have to get used to doing this stuff, Danny,” Mr. Domos told him, as they wheeled out of the cycling track parking lot and onto the banked oval track for his first ride.
A bit of drama ensued at the end of the first turn, where it became so banked that Mr. Chew couldn’t get up enough speed to stay upright, and the hand cycle tipped over. Several friends who were keeping watch helped him back up.
“It was a bit scary, but I was going so slow I was able to get my hand down to brace myself,” Mr. Chew said later.
WATCH: Danny Chew on the recovery trail
He was riding in Mr. Domos’ alternative hand cycle — not the one he set the 24-hour record in — and it was not properly set up for Mr. Chew, who at 6 feet tall is 4 inches taller than Mr. Domos. So Mr. Chew was a bit cramped and complained that his neck was sore because he had no support.
But everyone watching could see the joy on his face, even if he had to scale back his goal for the day to 10 miles.
“He’s amazing,” said Monica Reisz, a cyclist who met Mr. Chew nine years ago when they were both climbing the stairs at the Cathedral of Learning for fitness, as she watched him get into the hand cycle. “He’s an inspiration really, a tremendously driven guy. Even with this challenge, I think he’s going to take his goals and adapt.”
Since Mr. Chew left the rehabilitation facility in Chicago in December, he has been living with his friends Jerry and Sue Lynch in Akron, Ohio, until Mr. Chew’s family home in Squirrel Hill can be retrofitted to accommodate him.
Many people made a point of thanking Jerry Lynch, who drove Mr. Chew in from Akron on Sunday, for taking care of their mutual friend.
“You’re an angel,” Dara Stern told Mr. Lynch, who seemed embarrassed by the attention.
It seemed no choice to Mr. Lynch, who has a ranch-style home and knew that Mr. Chew would not have done well in a nursing home.
“Oh no. No way. He would have done terribly in a nursing home,” Mr. Lynch said. “Not on my watch.”
Still, with nearly round-the-clock care needed, it has been tough on the family, he conceded.
“But whenever it gets old,” Mr. Lynch said, “I think about his position.”
Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2579 or Twitter: @SeanDHamill.
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