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Pedal Pusher

At age 80, Washick has participated in 16 MS Trams, hoping for more

When Dan Washick started bicycling for Multiple Sclerosis Society (MS) he couldn’t imagine the impact it would have on his life. Dan started MS biking in 1996, when he was 67 years old, and did his first MS ride in 1997. He turned 80 years old in February of this year and has completed 14 MS rides and has participated in a total of 16 rides. He plans to ride in the 2015 MS ride if his doctor gives him the go ahead.

Why did he decide to do these MS rides? There are two reasons. “The reason I ride for MS is there is this lady I know in St. Paul. I have known her since she was born. She was normal, going along with life like the rest of us, and then at the age of 50, she got MS. Now she is totally in a wheelchair. She does something, and I can’t even say it with a straight look, she does something I could not do. She sits in that wheelchair seven days a week, and whenever she greets you, she greets you with the nicest smile you ever seen in your life. And I am going, Nancy if you can smile sitting in that wheelchair, I can ride that bike. That’s the incentive right there,” said Dan.

The other reason Dan got involved in the MS ride is because a lady and her husband have done every one except one. “She’s the lady who I got the idea from in the first place,” Dan said. “I was doing a water class exercise in St. Paul, and I knew Liz and Tim did the MS ride. I asked her: Do you think I could do that? She replied and said ‘I think if you train you can.’ So then I started training and did the MS ride the next year.”

In his 16 MS rides, Dan has traveled 4,350 miles and raised nearly $13,000. The MS ride is a 300-mile trip across the state of Minnesota, and they do it in five days. This year it went from Pipestone to Red Wing. “The MS Society goes out of their way to help you,” Dan said. “They want you to ride, but they literally take you by the hand and hold you. They want you to pedal, but they try to provide everything they can along the way. One year when it was extremely hot, we were going across southern Minnesota, and man-o-man, I sweat like unbelievable. Most of the rest stops are about 10 miles apart. But that year they had water stops every five miles to help you keep hydrated.”

Background on Dan Washick Dan was born in St. Paul in February of 1934. He attended grade school in St. Paul and then high school at Humbolt H.S. He started there when he was 5 feet tall, and four years later he grew another foot and weighed 125 pounds. He graduated in June of 1951, and in January of 1952, he went to Dunwoody for a year and a half. Dan was drafted, but the government let him stay and finish his Dunwoody class. He took basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He ended up with an infection in his foot and had to do his basic training over again. Then he went to Atlanta, and attended a wheel vehicle school for 12 weeks. He then flew to Seattle, traveled by ship to Porta Whittier, Alaska and spent 18 months there. He served from July 26, 1954, to July 20, 1956. Then he returned to St. Paul, got married in 1957 and has three children and eight grandchildren. Dan worked as an auto mechanic for 47 years at various dealerships, and 30 of those years were working on automatic transmissions. “I worked at nine different dealerships, and they knew that if there was a problem with the transmission there was never one that I couldn’t figure out.” Dan also worked at a St. Paul church as a maintenance person and ran a zamboni ice machine at the arena in South St. Paul. He moved to Lake Manuella, which is in Meeker County, and has lived there for the past 14 years. He currently teaches drivers training to persons who are 55 and older.

Riding along  the road of life Dan uses his five bikes on a daily basis. On one bike he has accumulated over 27,000 miles. To put that into perspective, the circumference of the earth at the equator is approximately 24,900 miles. One of his favorite memories of bike riding is trying to race a deer. “Believe this or not, this is absolutely true. This happened probably six years ago, riding by the south shore of Lake Washington. I could see out of the corner of my eye there was something coming, kid you not, Scout’s honor, a deer came and ran right along side the bicycle. I geared up the bicycle to see who was the fastest. What a joke that was. I am pedaling hard as I could pedal and that deer just goes running along probably about a hundred yards or better. It ran right next to me right on the straight road.”

The three enemies of bicycling are wind, rain and hills. The toughest is wind. “If you are walking into a 10-mile wind it doesn’t seem like much. But if you get on a bicycle and you go against a 10, 20 or 25-mile-a-hour wind, when the wind is on your side, you have to lean into it. The storm we had on June 21, 2013, was quite a major storm. We lost power for 13 hours. I was riding home from Litchfield, and at that time, I could see a black cloud approaching. I started going, and it opened up. There was nothing I could do but sit there and ride and lean into it so I wouldn’t fall over. I hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile when here came some people in a Dodge pickup, who I don’t know, but they live in Darwin, asked me if I wanted a ride. I said ‘Oh, my, Yes, Yes, I sure will.’ They gave me a ride home. I checked my bike the next day and realized I had a flat tire beside. Man-o-man, the Lord was with me. I have not seen those people in the Dodge pickup since. But I put a thank you in the local paper to tell them how much I appreciated their help.”

“I had one other crash, but I really didn’t get hurt. Dogs like to chase bicycles. They see these legs going around and around, and the dog likes to run with the bicycle. The dog was chasing me, and I stopped. I got the front brake but not the rear brake. I went clear right over the handlebars, slipped on the ground, and the dog came running over to me. I think he said ‘Now you are down on my level.’”

“I hope to get my health up good enough to ride in the Mankato River Rambler in October. It is 18 or 20 miles. It’s been eight weeks since my heart valve replacement surgery. I also plan to ride to the All Saints Lutheran Church in Darwin to attend their ice cream social. It’s going to take a little doing, but that is my plan.”

“Right now, I am working on my next MS ride which will be in July of 2015. I plan to be in it. It’s a lot of bicycling, and yes, you have got to be somewhat physical. But a lot of it is right here (he pointed to his brain), because you’ve got to decide, I know this is not going to be comfortable, but I am going to do it anyhow.”

“MS Society lets us bring along three pieces of luggage (including a tent) that they take along for us, and they ask us that each piece not weigh more than 45 pounds. There is a lot of action on the campgrounds at night including music until 10:30 p.m.”

“When I am getting close to the end of the ride, when somebody has a flat tire, I could keep on going, but I stop and help them fix the tire. One time it was pouring rain and we had crossed from Winona into River Falls and a man had a flat tire right in the midst of a downpour of rain. He had a tube but he had the wrong one with him. But I had the right one. So there were four of us men that put together his tire for him. That was one experience I remember riding for MS.”

“I’ve enjoyed it very much. At this point in my life I have had five things that could have ended my life. My determination and the bike riding basically saved my life. At the age of 67, I fell 14 feet out of my deer stand and landed on a log cross ways on the lawn. I broke the log but never broke a bone in my body. The doctor said ‘How old are you?’ I said I am 67. He said ‘you’re dead.’ I said no I am not dead. The doctor then said ‘One thing you have proved …  you cannot fly.’ So the next year, I went to the hospital to see the doctor, but he wasn’t in. I left a note to prove to him I made it another year.”

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