By Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel
He can still show flashes of his electric sprinting ability, the power on the bike that brought him two stage victories in the Tour de France, an Olympic bronze medal and a USPro Championship in the 1980s.
A couple decades removed from those racing days, however, Phinney now rides to inspire rather than compete.
He will pedal 62 miles around Pewaukee Lake on Oct. 11 to show others with Parkinson’s Disease how exercise can help them, physically and mentally.
The Moving Forward Ride for Parkinson’s is part of a weekend visit by Phinney and his family, with the main event being the Victory Summit organized by the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s.
Phinney created the foundation in 2004, about four years after being diagnosed with the neuro-muscular disease that had been slowing him for nearly a decade.
Five hundred people have signed up to attend the summit and learn how exercise can help them manage the disease and improve their lives.
“I myself lead the charge in trying to be as inspirational as possible and have people walk out of the building feeling hopeful,” Phinney said. “I make a point of trying to provoke people. Life’s not over because you have this diagnosis.”
Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin are new teammates helping Phinney with the Victory Summit.
Two of his old teammates, Tom Schuler and Jim Ochowicz, local riders who raced with Phinney on the 7-Eleven cycling team, were part of the inspiration for the bike ride the following day.
It provides an excellent opportunity to build on the information shared at the Summit.
“Many times, when you educate people about exercise, they think it’s a super idea, then you go and sit on the couch,” said Vicki Conte, the Parkinson’s program coordinator at Froedtert and the Medical College. “It’s a stigmatizing disease, so being with people can be inspiring and motivating, both.”
To date, about 150 people have signed up to ride along with what has become the “first family” of cycling in the U.S. That includes Phinney, his wife, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, and their son, Taylor.
Connie is a Madison native who competed in the 1972 Olympics as a speedskater and won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in road cycling. Taylor, 19, raced in track cycling in the Beijing Olympics and won the UCI World Track Championship in the pursuit in March.
Their participation should make the ride a big draw for cyclists looking for a late-season outing, Conte said. Money raised through registrations will be split between Phinney’s foundation and the Parkinson’s program at Froedtert.
The former champion cyclist was slowed considerably by Parkinson’s, which caused intense tremors in his left hand and arm, slowed his gate and caused involuntary body movements. Two years ago, surgeons implanted pace makers deep in his brain and the electric current has helped him manage his symptoms.
“I can ride well enough,” he said. “I don’t have as much power on the right side of my body as I do on the left side. On a good day, though, I can do things that most Parkinson’s patients could only dream of.
“Hopefully, I’ll still be game for the 100K.”