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Saturday, August 14, 2010


Was it just coincidence that brought me to the bike path on a muggy Friday the 13th morning?  The night before, my friend and I discussed several places to take a walk with FLD Mike.  What made us decide to trek along this path, to be met at just the right moment by a passing bicyclist?  The rider, a good friend of a man who is now gone, somehow recognized me.  He stopped his bike.

"You heard about Kevin?"  he asked.

Our walk had been filled with stories about Kevin; my friend and I both knew him.  For years.   Yes, I said.

"Tell everyone you know.  We are going to have cyclists ride with the funeral procession.  There might be over 200 riders.  Tell everyone to gather at 9:00 am on Monday." 

I will.

With the receipt of FLD Mike's First Birthday Card last weekend, I was reminded that my responsibility for this Future Leader Dog puppy is just about over.  September 13 will be a sad day when we say good-bye.

But letting go of FLD Mike so he can go on to "live an exceptional life," is not the same as experiencing a real loss.

Genuine loss is the dark that remains when an inspirational spotlight is suddenly extinguished.

It takes a while for our eyes to adjust.


The double pace-line had made the far turn and was heading back to the checkpoint near the Casino building on Belle Isle.  The year was 1985, or maybe 1986.  Late May, the Wolverine 200 Mile 24 Hour Bike Marathon.  Lou and I, strong on our tandem, relished the rush of pace-line speed, freewheels whirring behind us.  We pulled the outside line.

Lou spotted him first.  He was sitting dejectedly on the grass berm on the opposite side of the road with his three-wheeled racing bike upside down beside him--the front wheel a pretzel.

"Stop the bike!" Lou screamed.  I glanced in my helmet mirror, quickly signaled to the group that we were dropping off to their left.  The line blurred by us as we maneuvered between bicyclists heading the other direction.

Need some help? I asked.

Kevin Degen looked up.  His cerebral palsy muddled his speech, but not enough that we couldn't understand him.   Kevin had taken a spill after hitting a nasty pothole; his front wheel was un-rideable.

"You can fix it, Patti," Lou said.  She always had more confidence in me than I had in myself.  "She fixed our tandem wheel last week when we twisted it in some sand on the side of the road up in Lakeville.  After she straightened it, we rode 25 miles on it to get home!"

I removed Kevin's wheel, loosened all the spokes, and used a nearby tree trunk to pound the rim out of its pretzel shape.  Back on the bike, I used the brake pads as a make-do truing stand, retightening the spokes.  The wheel was as round as it was ever going to be.  It'll have to be replaced, but you should be able to finish the ride.

"Thanks," Kevin smiled and worked his way up onto the saddle.  Lou and I watched in amazement as he cycled off, able to use only the left side of his body to pedal, steer, and brake.

Kevin (and me) at the finish of his cross-country ride in 2000.

Bicycling was Kevin's life.  He frequently rode over 3000 miles a year, raising money for charities and promoting the abilities of the disabled.  "If I can do it, so can you," he often remarked.

Kevin Degen died this week.

The world has truly lost an exceptional life.

Come join Kevin's fellow bicycles on Monday morning at 9:00 am as we escort him from his funeral at Holy Name Catholic Church in Birmingham, to his final rest-stop at While Chapel Cemetery in Troy.  

For more information, click here. 

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