The media dubbed him the “Pedal Monster,” and Mike Heikes of Fergus Falls, has earned that title. The avid bicyclist has covered over 125,000 miles, including all 50 states and the bordering provinces of Canada. But that is only half the story. Mike is a brain injury survivor and is on a mission to tell his story so others won’t experience a similar fate. In the process, he has raised over $100,000 for charity. The story began in 1982 when Mike was 18 years old. He was riding with a friend at a high rate of speed when the vehicle flipped 100 feet in the air. They both had been drinking at the time. His friend received minor injuries, but Mike was not as lucky. “When they shaved my head to prepare for neurosurgery, the hospital staff saved my hair in case I had an open casket funeral.” The doctors had very little hope of their patient surviving. If he didn’t have brain surgery, he would probably be in a vegetative state, according to journals written at the time by Mike’s parents. The “Pedal Monster” proved them wrong. He spent six weeks at St. Luke’s hospital in Fargo, and nine weeks at the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis. Due to fine surgeons, (one had operated on President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in Dallas), young Mike pulled through. This was the beginning of a “new normal” for the brain injured patient. Mike describes his new self in a book he wrote in 2009, ‘Finding Purpose … In Being A Brain Injury Survivor.’ He shares what it is like to suffer short-term memory loss and how it has affected his life. In 2007, another book on brain injury was written, “In An Instant”, by Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee. A co-anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight, Woodruff suffered injury to his speech and language part of the brain in an explosion in Iraq while he was embedded with the military. Both men tell similar stories of being easily angered and rattling off a series of expletives after their brain surgery. They both tell of contacting pneumonia which nearly killed them. “I don’t remember this,” said Mike, “but they tell me I kicked a nurse and swore a lot. It upset my mother because she had never heard me talk that way.” After intensive therapy, Mike returned to Fergus Falls. His dream of attending college disappeared after the accident. Even though he had a 3.5 grade point average in high school, his short-term memory loss prevented him from achieving academic success. “I started working at a restaurant I worked at before my accident. I was promoted to prep cook, but was fired.” Then Mike became a “Mop Jockey.” His motto is “A clean toilet is a happy toilet.” He is presently employed at the New Beginnings Family Fitness Center in Fergus Falls. In a quote from his book, Mike states, “People forget how fast you do a job, but they remember how well you did it.” Shortly after his return from therapy in Minneapolis, Mike joined the Law Enforcement Explorer Program designed for young people interested in law enforcement. He soon learned that his short-term memory loss ran interference for him and law enforcement was not an option. He did, however, help in fingerprinting thousands of children for ID purposes. A short-term memory disability is often compensated by writing notes or step-by-step procedures on how a goal is accomplished. “I have notes all over the house,” said Mike. “My wife, Teresa, tolerates them. She is very understanding. I even have a coded system of marking my clothes in the closet as I can’t remember what I wear from day to day. I watch very little TV because when the commercials come on, I forget what the first half of the program was about. I have to write everything down.” Mike tries to keep a sense of humor about his disability. “I tried to put a refrigerator magnet to my head to see if the wires in my skull would connect, but they didn’t. Once I worked in a nursing home and enjoyed it because their short-term memory loss was almost the same as mine.” Mike is also proud of his 1,500 die cast Corvette collection, saying it is for sale to the highest bidder. The gratitude Mike feels for those who have helped him along his journey to “new normal” is huge. He has a great desire to give back to those who have helped him. So in June of 1997, he began a series of five transcontinental journeys on his 27 speed Trek 5500 bicycle. Journey #1 took him from San Fransico to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a total of 3,752 miles. He raised $10,000 for the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis, taking him 52 days. Journey #2 took 30 days from Los Angeles to Boston for a total of 3,400 miles. The April 1998 trip raised money for Fargo’s MeritCare Hospital’s Brain Injury Staff Education Fund. Journey #3 was from Aug.-Sept. 98 to raise money for the Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls. It was a 30-day trip from Canada to New Orleans. Journey #4 was from South Portland, Maine to Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The 22-day, 1,554 mile trip, took place in August and September 1999. Journey #5 completed the final eight of the lower 48 states. Mike raised $5,000 for the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota. Two separate trips to Hawaii (for the Kinship program) and Alaska (for Focus on the Family) completed the cyclist’s goal of riding in all 50 states. In his fund raising effort to promote safety for children riding bicycles, Mike created Helmets For Kids program. He has given away thousands of bike helmets to school children. He has raised close to $50,000 for his helmet fund. After completing his 50-state rides, Mike was married in August 2002 to Teresa Bjornlie of Fergus Falls. Teresa’ father, Lloyd, a retired Lutheran Bretheran pastor, assisted in the ceremony. The bicycle theme was part of their wedding service. The flower girls dropped bicycle pedals at their wedding rehersal. And waiting outside the church was a “bicycle built for two.” In 2002, Mike received “The Jefferson Award” which honors “Ordinary People Who Do Extraordinary Things Without Expectation or Reward.” He was one of 51 people chosen from 14,000 nominations across the nation. He was flown to Washington, D.C. where he met Laura Bush, John McCain, Hilary Clinton and many other political figures and well known celebrities. In the closing of his book, Mike tells what it was like to complete the book in over a three year time period. He tells how he would forget what he had already written a few minutes before. “Writing this book was like putting a giant puzzle together with some of the pieces missing and some of the pieces from different puzzles.” Mike’s book can be purchased in Fergus Falls at Victor Lundeen, The Promise Shop and the Fergus Falls Lake Region Hospital Gift Shop. If you want to contribute to Mike’s Helmets For Kids, order his book or arrange a speaking engagement, contact: Mike Heikes, 23071 County Highway 1, Fergus Falls, MN 56537, 1-218-736-6023 (before 7 p.m.).
Brain injury couldn’t stop ‘Pedal Monster’