ADD awareness fuels cyclist's 5,000-mile trip

Oregon man riding to D.C. and hopes to talk to politicians

July 20, 2004|By Kirsten Valle | Kirsten Valle,SUN STAFF

Michael Sandler has had his share of close encounters. There was that brush with the bear in California, the 15 flat tires in his first three days on the road, the bleak 120-mile stretch in Utah and what he calls the "thousand-year rain" between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for starters.

But 40 days and nearly 5,000 miles since he set off - alone - from Portland, Ore., Sandler is alive, well and has almost finished the cross-country bicycle trek to raise awareness of attention deficit disorder.

"I'm looking for Route 1 now," he shouts into his cell phone yesterday from somewhere outside Baltimore, where just a few hours from his final destination of Washington, a little static and a loud wind have made conversation nearly impossible. "Bear with me on the downhills."

Sandler's journey is as much about ADD as it is overcoming the neurological disorder that, according to the National Institutes of Health, affects 3 percent to 5 percent of Americans. He says its major symptoms - distractibility, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, poor attention span and impulsiveness - can be treated, offering his trip as part of the proof.

Sandler, 33 - whose ADD was diagnosed when he was a child - has learned to live with the disorder as an adult, earning two master's degrees from Colorado State University, in business and computers. "ADD is not a disorder so much as a gift. We're brilliant, creative people," he says.

"I want to send the message to not throw up your hands and give up."

That message has been useful lately, on what Sandler calls the most difficult physical task he has ever attempted. He follows a strict daily routine: start pedaling between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., ride an average of 150 miles, find a cheap room, eat, sleep and start over. When he finds the time, Sandler checks his e-mail - he says he got about 97 messages Sunday - and records ideas for the book he plans to write about the journey. His first book, Positive ADDitudes in College, a guide for college-age students with ADD, is awaiting a publisher.

His progress is tracked on his Web site, www.positiveadditude.com, which features photos, ADD information and news from the road.

Sandler says he has learned to overcome the difficulties inherent in long-distance cycling (including the bear, with which he crossed paths - harmlessly - while lost in the dark in California). "I managed to separate my body and mind," he says. "I left my body somewhere between Chicago and Ohio."

He also thrives on the encouragement of supporters, who have almost completely funded his trip. "I get by on a combination of eBay-ing my life away and donations," he says. Sandler sold his motorcycle, for example, when he ran out of money halfway through his trip. Facing such struggles has helped Sandler appreciate the kindness of strangers. "People are people wherever you go," he says.

His faith also has been a factor. "There have been so many coincidences that I can no longer call them coincidences," says Sandler, who attributes his triumph over ADD in part to spirituality. "It's given me so much faith that everything will work out."

Sandler plans to stay in Washington until Friday, where he hopes to meet with politicians to discuss ADD awareness and find a way home to Fort Collins, Colo., where he coaches children and adults with ADD.

His method of transportation - biking is out of the question, he says - depends on how much money he has left. Right now it's looking like the bus. As for what he'll do when he gets home? "My couch and I have an appointment," he jokes.

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