Wed, Jan. 21, 2004
The Wichita Eagle
As 40 yellow and black helium-filled balloons flew into the Kansas wind Tuesday morning, Delbert Richardson's thoughts were on multiple sclerosis.
The balloons, he said, were for the 400,000 Americans who have been diagnosed with MS.
He also said that the journey he is about to embark on -- a 10-month, 14,000-mile trek across 48 states -- is also for those 400,000 people.
This isn't his first such trip.
Three years ago, Richardson made national news when he completed a 5,100-mile journey by bike that began in Seattle and ended at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He did that despite battling multiple sclerosis himself.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may range from tingling and numbness to paralysis and blindness.
When he was first diagnosed with the disease six years ago, it initially left him depressed and physically unable to perform daily activities. He began using a wheelchair, stopped driving his car and could no longer work.
Then his life began to change.
One morning after waking from a dream in which he saw himself biking across America, Richardson set about doing just that.
Since then, he has become a motivational speaker, carried the Olympic Torch when it passed through Wichita and is always working to focus attention on MS.
This trip, he said, was prompted not by his dreams but by the dreams of others with MS.
"It is for them who have dreams and who feel MS is so devastating that their life is over," Richardson said. "This is my way of trying to reach out to them and let them know anything is possible."
A celebration for Richardson was held Tuesday at Exploration Place, in which family and friends wished him well on his trip. He had planned to leave Tuesday but reports of snow along the Oklahoma state line prompted him to postpone the beginning of the trip.
He estimates that the trip, using a motorized tricycle, will take 289 days to complete. It will take him over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Grand Canyon, past Mount Rushmore and Niagara Falls.
He says his cycle looks like an oversized industrial vacuum cleaner. He's right.
It's fully enclosed and has a gas motor to help him cruise at 60 m.p.h. It also has a global positioning system, a windshield wiper, a CD player and radio, a solar-powered ventilation system, air ducts and a portable air- conditioning system for crossing the desert.
"I designed it myself and built it myself," Richardson said. "It's going to be an awesome ride."
Along the way, he will have physicians checking his health to make sure he can continue the journey. Last summer while participating in a bike ride in Grand Rapids, Mich., Richardson suffered a heart attack.
"I pushed myself a little hard then," he said. "I have to keep reminding myself I'm 50 and not 21."
This trip, Richardson said, is all about raising awareness of MS and demonstrating the role that he and others who live with the disease have in motivating the newly diagnosed.
"There is a lot of hope out there," Richardson said. "There are new treatments and medications out there that can give us the freedom to do what we want."
The trip, he said, is also all about facing one's greatest fears.
"What this trip is about is helping people realize we are all given gifts. It's letting them know anything is possible. It's taking a look at challenges - whether it be bungee jumping, crossing a mountain or cycling across America -- and letting them know it is still possible. They might have to figure out another way of doing those things -- like putting a motor on a cycle -- but it's still possible to do."
Richardson will post journal entries and photos on the Web to document
his experiences. For more information, visit www.wheelsofhope.com
© Copyright 2004, The Wichita Eagle