Hurt cyclist makes valiant effort Inspiration: Despite an injury on the first day of the Cycle Across Maryland tour, Paul Vance, 82, continues to participate in the state event.

July 27, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

As the first cyclists trickled onto the campus of Essex Community College yesterday, Paul Vance limped along the roadway, injured and disappointed.

The Cycle Across Maryland (CAM)tour -- 1,000 riders strong -- was forming its final overnight encampment before concluding the 360-mile event today near Bel Air. Tents were being pitched, large amounts of fluids and food were being consumed, and friendships were being formed among the cyclists and a small army of support workers.

But Vance was calling himself a quitter for not making the day's 60-mile trek from Westminster to Essex. Here was a guy who pedaled coast to coast in 1988, had been riding for more than two decades and, to the best of his judgment, was at the top of his game.

But on the first day of the CAM tour, coming out of Havre de Grace, Vance took a spill. He sprained an abdominal muscle, restricting his movement, and was able to only ride his bike intermittently during the tour. He rode into the campus in a van, not on his Trek two-wheeler.

"It's that way when you get older, injuries take a little longer to heal," said the 82-year-old retired steel worker from Franklin Park in western Pennsylvania. "I'll be in better shape next year."

If U.S. Olympian Kerri Strug was the picture of determination and grit this week, Vance has been a quiet symbol of the indomitable spirit. In an event that has been as much a pleasure tour as a test of endurance for the cyclists, the gentleman with a full head of white hair atop a wiry frame was no stranger.

"Everybody respects that dude," said Chris Larrimore, a 13-year-old rider from Queen Anne's County and one of yesterday's early finishers.

Likewise for rider Carmen Copeland, 31, of Glen Burnie: "I saw the old man riding this week. He's great, isn't he. You see somebody like that doing it and it becomes an inspiration."

While most marveled at Vance's age, none knew his secret. Last year, his physician diagnosed prostate cancer and Vance says he is now in remission.

"I wish you wouldn't make a big deal out of that," Vance said, seated in the coolness of the college field house. "It's not bothering me right now, so I'm just going ahead and doing what I like to do in life."

As a teen, he played sandlot baseball and was invited by the St. Louis Cardinals for a tryout, "but in those days you had to pay your own way to camp and my family couldn't afford it."

Vance also boxed and became an expert hunter and trapper in the mountains around his home "and that helped me get good legs for the sport of cycling."

Vance retired after working 42 years in Pennsylvania's steel factories, and took up cycling. He rides 20 to 40 miles a day as a member of the Pennsylvania Wheelmen.

"On a ride like this, the scenery in Maryland is beautiful and the people are wonderful," Vance said. "I have done this tour the last four years and I always come away with new people I meet."

Last year, Lois, his wife of 55 years, died. "I miss her, and I thought a lot about her during the tour. She was a smart woman who wrote poems."

But life goes on for Vance.

"I'm always on the go, I can't sit still," he said. "People always asked me about my secret to health. I really don't know but I have buried four of my dentists and six of my doctors. I still have most of my teeth."

Before the afternoon drifted into evening, Vance had one more thing to do.

Referring to the 18 professional massage therapists who are working the tour, he said, "Early on, I told one of the massage ladies I'd buy her a meal. A man's got to be as good as his word."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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