August 29, 2001
By Don Brown
LEITCHFIELD - A Wichita, Kansas man is making the journey of a lifetime in hopes that he can, literally, fulfill a dream, and in doing so, inspire others with disabilities to live full and productive lives.
Forty-eight year old Delbert Richardson was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, five years ago this coming October. A military man for some 20 years, Richardson was working with a Wichita contracting firm at the time. He continued working for another year after that, but then had to stop working as MS is a degenerative disease and it had progressed to the point he just could not do his job anymore. He said he spiralled down into a deep depression at that point, but a dream brought him out of it and started him on his journey.
"I saw myself riding a two-wheeled bike, something I can't do because of (lack of) balance," he said. "I saw three landmarks... the Space Needle, the Golden Gate and the White House. When that dream showed up three times in the space of a week, I decided to fulfill that dream."
Richardson said his journey has a three-fold mission. First is to regain his independence and rebuild his confidence and his ability to overcome obstacles, things that his state of depression had taken away from him.
Secondly, he wants to increase people's knowledge about MS. He said many times when he begins talking about the disease, people will tell him they always watch the Jerry Lewis Telethons.
"I then get a chance to explain that what Muscular Distrophy (MD) is for children, Multiple Sclerosis is for adults," Richardson said. Both diseases are degenerative nervous disorders.
Finally, Richardson hopes to motivate others with MS and other disabilities.
"The hardest part of life is living it," he says. "I encourage them to do like I do and say, 'I can,' and 'I will,' and when it's over, 'I did it!' Then, that's a celebration. They don't have to do anything as extreme as I'm doing... it could be just leaving the walker or the cane by the couch and struggling across the room to change the TV channel. It's a success. The little bitty victories make it worthwhile."
Richardson's MS is now in what is called Stage Two Progressive.
"That means things aren't getting better, they're just slowly deteriorating. I may be accelerating that by utilizing so much energy on this trip, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
The disease can be a tricky one to diagnose as its symtoms, taken by themselves, seem to be indicative of other problems. It is only when the cumulative symtoms are taken into account that the diagnosis of MS is considered. Then, an MRI and a spinal tap provide conclusive proof. Richardson said doctors thought he was having a stroke when he first presented symtoms.
"They thought I'd probably had it well before it was diagnosed. That was just the first time it had hit hard enough to be apparent."
Richardson had the tricycle, or "trike" as he calls it, specially built. It has some 40 gears which allow him to maintain his headway up steep grades. He reclines in a harness-style seat and pushes with his legs to generate power. The polycarbonate shell he built himself from a design drawn by four of his six daughters. He said the shell was an idea forced upon him by his family to keep him from the elements and protect him from the rocks thrown up by trucks, but it was one he was ultimately glad for.
"I'm glad they forced me into this, even though it added more weight. One day a chunk of bark fell off a logging truck and hit the canopy. I was doing about 25 and he was doing about 50. The noise was scary enough, but without the canopy it probably would have been a facial or a chest shot and that would have been the end of the trip."
His trip began in Seattle, site of the Space Needle, on April 9 and took him south on U.S. 101 through Oregon and into California, where he crossed the second of his dream sites, the Golden Gate Bridge. He then drove on south, crossing the Mojave Desert, where, "Two days turned into five days of torture."
At Williams, Arizona, Richardson said, "I made like the cartoon character Snagglepuss and exited stage left and went to the Grand Canyon for three days."
Then it was on to the Four Corners area and into Colorado, where he crossed the Continental Divide by going through the 10,850-foot high Wolf Creek Pass. Downhill from there, he made his way back into Kansas and spent two weeks at home in Wichita, where he had some dental surgery and had some repairs done on the trike.
Then it was off across Missouri, into Illinois and Indiana, and finally into Kentucky at Henderson. He began experiencing some health difficulties and it took him several days to reach Leitchfield, where he made a stop at Embry's Bike Division to replace some brake cables and be interviewed for this feature.
Heading east on U.S. 62, Richardson expects to pass south of Lexington, then cross into West Virginia at Williamson. From there, he'll head into Virginia and on into Washington D.C., where he plans a victory loop around the Mall.
"When I do that, it will be for everybody with disabilities, not just MS," he said.
His trip is being underwritten by
a couple of differnet groups, including one called Champions of Courage.
©Grayson County News-Gazette
©Grayson County News-Gazette 2001