When Dave Ackerman signed up for a 140-mile charity bike ride to support Marylanders with AIDS, he knew it would take a lot of time and energy to train.
But after getting on a bike for the first time since childhood, Ackerman, who weighed 315 pounds, realized that completing Moveable Feast's Rehoboth- to-Baltimore ride this coming weekend was going to be more challenging than he had imagined.
High cholesterol and blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes made even light exercise uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for Ackerman. And initially, he was "terrified" to get on a bike.
The alternative, however, was even more terrifying.
"I thought, Oh, my God, at 41 years old, I am a stroke in the making," Ackerman says.
Ride for the Feast, a two-day event that raises money to provide meals for Marylanders with AIDS, was the perfect way for the busy tourism development manager to get two things accomplished at once.
After watching last year's inaugural ride, Ackerman wanted to participate. So he began a diet and a training program, setting his sights for this year's ride. His conventional weight loss program, which included calorie counting and portion control, helped the now 42-year-old lose enough weight to feel comfortable on his bike.
His training began with short, flat rides, and eventually included the more hilly areas of Delaware's Cape Henlopen State Park. Now he's putting in at least 12 miles every day, with longer rides on weekends.
With less than a week left before the event, Ackerman's resolve to finish is now as solid as his new 250-pound frame.
He's counting the days until he'll bike alongside an expected 100 or so other participants who will ride 100 miles the first day and 40 the second, camping along the way at Kent Island High School.
Though raising a minimum of $1,200 -- a requirement for all riders -- was a challenge, Ackerman says, training for the event has been the "most significantly difficult thing" he has ever done.
But he says the journey to fitness has changed his life.
Instead of worrying about when he's going to "stroke out," he's now making plans to try new things -- including travel and recreational activities -- that were previously impossible for him because of his poor health.
"This particular achievement says one thing to me," he adds: "Nothing is impossible. I feel like a kid! I'm ready to live."
Others participating in the event have their own reasons for pedaling. Some are riding in of honor friends lost to AIDS, while others, like George and Mary Drake, want to contribute and get a workout at the same time.
The 60-something Parkton residents are already active with a full schedule of kayaking, cycling, canoeing and hiking. So, adding a little more biking into the mix wasn't difficult.
The Drakes say their regular tandem bike rides around northern Baltimore County and southern Pennsylvania are not just exercise but a way for them to spend quality time together.
Using a training program they found in a bicycling magazine, the retired couple started preparing for the AIDS ride about two months ago with casual rides of less than 20 miles. Now they are doing three rides per week totaling 80 miles.
The challenge and the exercise are two important motivations for them, but the cause and the camaraderie with other participants are what makes it all worthwhile, they say.
"Being with people who are local Baltimore people, there's a great connection," says Mary, who adds that she and her husband volunteered to assist riders at last year's event.
"On the ride, people encourage each other," George adds. "Some people ride back down the hill and ride back up with somebody, cheering them on. These rides are not considered races. There's no competition."
It's the sense of doing something positive for others that is really the most important thing, he says. The basic concept of people helping people is "pretty awesome."
Be honest; Training tips
In preparation for this weekend's Ride for the Feast, 42-year-old Dave Ackerman trained for several months and lost 65 pounds. Here are his top five training tips:
* Be honest: "My very best advice is to be honest" with yourself, especially when it comes to food intake. "Watch those calories," he says.
* Avoid short cuts: Ackerman capitalizes on every opportunity to take the long way. "I park ridiculously far away from any door." Those extra 50 steps will make a difference over time.
* Keep it real: "You have to maintain a realistic concept of what's possible today," he says. "There is no quick fix. There really isn't. ... Start small."
* Speak up and get support: "People should tell everyone around them what they're doing. All by yourself, it's easy for the little doubts to creep into your head." Without support, he adds, "I don't know how people do it."
* You're worth it: Think positively every day and don't let personal setbacks put you in a tailspin. "You have to say, 'Wow, I'm really worth making the effort.' "
You can still register
Moveable Feast's Ride for the Feast on May 22 and 23 is a bicycle ride from Rehoboth Beach, Del., to Baltimore.
About 100 riders ranging in age from 15 to 66 are expected to participate in the 140-mile event, which raises money to provide meals for Marylanders with AIDS.
All riders must raise at least $1,200, and will be supported by a team of volunteers during the journey.
Registration is still open. Call 410-327-3420, Ext. 35, for more information, or visit www.mfeast.org.
If you'd rather spectate than participate, come out to Patterson Park at 1 p.m. May 23 to watch as the riders cross the finish line. The celebration, which will feature a concert and other activities, will run until 4 p.m.