I’m a four-time stroke survivor and I am walking across America.
As you read this, I should be crossing over into Missouri from Oklahoma on a journey that started five months ago at the American Stroke Association’s offices in Orange County, California.
Since Feb. 14, I’ve covered about 1,600 miles on foot in five states. So far I’ve made it from California to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. I have five more states to go before ending up in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 10. It’s a total of more than 2,600 miles.
You can follow the journey on my blog.
I’m doing this to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke, and to show firsthand how a healthy lifestyle can save your life. It worked for me.
After my strokes and other serious health challenges, the American Stroke Association gave me a new lease on life. Once I was inspired to live healthy, my life really turned around.
I wanted to do something in return – to set an example. I also wanted to help people understand that physical activity inspires a healthy lifestyle and that a positive attitude helps overcome disabilities and health challenges. And I wanted to let people know about the early warning signs for stroke and heart disease so they can get immediate help and reduce the lasting effects of these conditions.
I cover about 100 miles a week with support from family, friends and folks I am meeting along the way. It’s all coordinated by my wife, Louise, and sister-in-law Marie back home in San Clemente, Calif. My family is funding my hotel stays. They’re also finding folks who volunteer to drive me from my route to hotels and back, and to take me to visit hospitals and schools along the way.
Some folks I meet admit they never exercise, but soon after we talk they start planning for a healthier future. . They say, “If you can walk across the U.S. after having four strokes, the least I can do is get up off the couch and walk around the block.” They are doing that and more.
I’m visiting hospitals to encourage stroke survivors. I know very well their daily struggle to just get out of bed. I tell them that with determination they can walk again. I know from personal experience. The pamphlets I bring from the American Heart Association are always prominently displayed when I leave. (The American Stroke Association is a division of the American Heart Association.)
I had a cluster stroke, a series of four small strokes in one area of the brain, following an accident at work in l988 that crushed my foot. I started losing my hearing and having severe head pain every day. I took prescribed medication for years, and that eventually contributed to liver problems.
In 2003, I decided to get off all medications and work to achieve a healthier lifestyle. I gave up smoking and was determined to be more physically active. Things took a positive turn in 2005 when I joined the American Heart Association’s marathon training program Train To End Stroke. Louise and I went to an information session and I was sold on the idea within a few minutes. I needed to take control of my health, and physical activity seemed a good way to do it. I never really thought I could complete a marathon. I signed up basically to get some exercise.
The group was training for the 2005 San Diego Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon and I became a Stroke Hero, a special designation for survivors in the program. Everyone looked at me as an inspiration –so I knew I had to finish.
Walking with a cane, I did it – in six hours and 49 minutes. I went on to complete nine full marathons and four half marathons over the next four years. I continued to be involved with this marathon training group as a mentor and ambassador.
I was still being treated for liver disease when I got involved in marathons. But I didn’t let that stop me. I am ornery, and I plan to keep enjoying life as long as possible. And for me, marathons and walking are an important part of enjoying life. I’ve been involved with the Orange County Heart Walk for the past few years, but the idea to walk across America came spontaneously. Someone asked late last year what I would do after completing so many marathons. “Well, I guess I could just walk across America,” I wisecracked.
Then I realized walking across America would really be a great way to create awareness of heart disease and stroke and the need to raise funds for research … something I could do to thank the American Stroke Association for changing my life.
Louise and I figured out the logistics to make it happen, the American Stroke Association’s Orange County office gave me a wonderful send-off, and today here I am: more than halfway across the country.
People see me walking in remote areas or on their city streets and ask what I am doing and if I need help. I tell them about the importance of walking for a healthy lifestyle and supporting the mission of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.
I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers who take the time to offer me a cold drink, invite me to their home for dinner or want to donate to my Start! Training program.
Read an update on Mycle's journey from the Jan/Feb issue of Stroke Connection magazine.
Watch for me in coming weeks as I make my way to Washington D.C.!