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Getting Back on the Bike

Michael Golden bikes every day on his lunch break, why?
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Chances are, if you have ever driven on SR 89 right around lunchtime you have seen Michael Golden on his daily ride. But, have you wondered what the heck he is doing out there? He certainly doesn’t look like your stereotypical cyclist — mostly because he doesn’t wear the uniform (you know what I’m talking about).

To understand why Golden spends every lunch break (weather permitting) biking, we need to flash back 30 years to a life-altering ski accident he had at Squaw Valley. The crash damaged his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the waist down. After spending nine months in the neuro intensive care unit, he was told he would never walk again. If you have ever seen Golden riding, you can infer that he does, in fact, have control of his legs.

How did he get here?

A ski racer at the University of California, Berkeley, Golden describes himself as being athletic. He grew up cycling and running long distance — hobbies he credits his ability to recover to.

Golden broke his back on Jan. 26, 1986, and says he owes his life to ski patroller Don Schott. Transferred immediately to what is now Renown Medical Center, he was told he should begin learning how to live with a wheel chair. “I didn’t accept that,” he said. “Not only will I walk again, but I will ski again, too.”

While healing from surgery in the hospital in Reno, Golden started walking with a walker and a removable body cast. Because his spinal cord was severed, but not fully torn, he was able to slowly exercise the affected muscles. After Reno he had a short-lived stay at another facility, of which he prefered not to mention the name, but said is considered one of the best in the country.

He revealed that the care at this second hospital was not the positive environment he needed because they told him to accept his injury and to get used to living in a wheel chair. “They write off people with spinal cord injuries,” he said. He was deemed a bad apple and was “kicked out for trying to walk.”

Finally, Golden entered a program in the Bay Area that he describes as full-time outpatient physical therapy. He spent all day every day at the hospital doing exercises with his doctor Jim Twomey, but went home to his parents’ house in the evenings. The facility gave him hope; albeit with the caveat that it wouldn’t be easy.

“I had to have the willpower and acceptance that I was going to have to retrain myself to do everything, as if I was an infant,” Golden said.

Together with Twomey, Golden set achievable goals — the biggest of which was to get Golden back out cycling.

Five months later he was back on the bike. “It wasn’t pretty at first,” he said.

Today, Golden estimates that he rides 5,000 miles a year and has biked more than 100,000 miles since his 1986 accident. The reason he keeps cycling is threefold. First, if he isn’t constantly exercising his legs he will lose their ability to function. Second, he really, genuinely enjoys it. And third, it helps him decompress.

Like all things, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows — Golden has been hit twice, but luckily neither incident yielded injuries beyond some scrapes and bruises. To him, the pros outweigh the cons. “I have always said the worst day on the road is better than the best day in the gym,” he explained.

Golden’s daily rides are typically around 20 miles, and longer if he has the time. The longest outing to date? Golden rode across the state of California from San Francisco to Truckee in two days.

While still physically unable to run, Golden has also accomplished his goal of skiing again with the help of leg braces.

But really, it is cycling that carried him on his journey to recovery.

“One of the things I love about cycling is that you are treated to a unique perspective as opposed to driving or walking,” Golden said. “You see things cycling that you would never see otherwise.”

 
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October 12, 2017