July 02, 2022 5 min read 4 Comments
By Ray Glier
Patrick Bohan lives in Buena Vista, Col. His address is between a rock and a hard place. We have all been there, between a rock and hard place, but only for an afternoon, or a few days. We think we’re stuck with no good choices, like when the AC goes out, and we need to leave and get groceries, but we’re afraid the AC repairman is going to show up when we’re gone.
We have no idea what a real jam is. Bohan’s rock and a hard place, for now, is 24/7 and life and death. It makes you shake your head in dismay at life’s fragility and unfairness to see a cycling champion put on life’s edge.
Bohan, 58, was a gold medal winner at the National Senior Games in 2019 in the 10k timed trial. He was set to defend his crown this past May when he felt a pain in his chest. He was diagnosed with Anomalous Aortic Origin of the Right Coronary Artery. He didn’t go to Ft. Lauderdale for the National Senior Games because the first symptom of this condition is the last symptom. It is sudden death, he said. You don’t get rushed to the hospital.
Well, Patrick, get it fixed.
He can’t. Not yet anyway. On Oct. 14, 2020, in a bicycle race in Colorado, Bohan went from 29 mph to 0 mph in an instant. He was hurled over the handle bars. He hit the street and it was gruesome.
“I had 30 broken bones that required four surgeries including facial reconstruction and shoulder reconstruction,” Bohan said. “I broke multiple vertebrae, every rib on my left side, my cheek bone and left eye orbital were shattered. I had a collapsed lung and severe concussion.”
That was the easy stuff.
After his fourth surgery, a toxic megacolon infection from c. diff. put him on his death bed. His colon was six times larger than normal.
“The doctors told my wife I was probably going to get septic and die,” Bohan said. “I said goodbye to my wife.”
He recovered, obviously. He had lost 45 pounds and only a radical treatment saved his life.
The first thing Bohan did when he got home from almost a month in the hospital is he got on the training bike at his house. He was wobbly. His wife, Molly, was nearby as a spotter.
Bohan is not living like a hot house flower where he wilts to exposure, of any sort. He can’t afford to do that. He must exercise because of another genetic condition, Multifocal Motor Neuropathy.
He has to keep exercising to build the neural plasticity that enables the muscles and brain to work around the neurological damage to his body. Many people struggle to walk, or do not walk at all, with this affliction.
Seven months after his release from the hospital from the crash Bohan was racing again. Nine months after his release, he won a race. Then came the diagnosis with the heart.
Bohan cannot be indifferent to the heart condition so he has to meter his exertion. He cannot get the heart fixed right now because his body is still recovering from the toxic megacolon infection. Doctors don’t want to risk another infection.
That’s Patrick’s rock and a hard place.
"I try not to let it get me down," Bohan said. "I've had a pretty good life. I've seen a lot of things, done a lot of things. I know the genes in my family are not very good, but it's not like I am living with a lot of regrets.
"I can't waste days feeling sorry for myself."
It’s fitting to talk about Bohan this week because the Tour de France is underway. Bohan could go fast on a bicycle. Not as fast, or as long, as the amazing Tadej Pogaca, but Bohan was pretty stout among Geezers. In 2017, he won the gold medal in the 5k and 10k Time Trials at the National Senior Games.
Bohan has a gift in time trial racing. He gets up to speed and stays there, no backing off because his lungs are ready to explode, or his legs begging for a rest. Bohan knows how to pedal extremely hard and run his heart rate through the average person’s METS score, and stay there at that speed, and endure that suffering. Bohan would be a terrific firefighter because he could climb eight stories in full gear and put the fire out, or get the child out, or both.
“My coaches tell me ‘You know how to suffer (on that bike)’,” Bohan said.
He really wants to race again but, these days, Bohan does not dare suffer too much on the bike because of the heart condition. He goes, maybe, 70 percent. Amazingly, to me, he will bike 25 miles some days. It is at a pedestrian pace, but it still seems bold. Patrick lifts weights every day for his upper body and walks to feed his body the stimulation it needs to deal with his neurological disorder.
Bohan started racing in 2014 because the neurological condition made his hobby, rock climbing, risky. He needed something to keep his muscles active. He found the bike, which he calls “the great equalizer.”
“It's one of those sports that for some reason is very conducive to people that may have physical ailments, and it's more forgiving,” Patrick said. “It is not as demanding technique-wise. If your running technique is not very good, you're not going to go very fast. If your swimming technique isn't very good, you won’t go as fast.
“But if you watch people that cycle you see people who are mashers, or riding big gears, low revolutions, or people with high revolutions. That’s why it’s such a great sport.”
Patrick, who is a retired software engineer, says advancing age does not factor in as quickly in cycling, that your performance doesn’t fall off as fast with passing years like it does if you were in, say, track and field.
The amalgamation of Bohan’s afflictions should be downright scary. But at the same time life was dealing him crummy genes it was giving him tools to survive. Bohan’s ethos on the bike is about endurance. His ethos in life is about endurance, too.
Patrick was born with an autoimmune deficiency and routinely got staph infections a a young boy. He would have died except for a doctor who finally figured out what was going on and stepped in to save his life.
Bohan also had an abusive step-father who had a drinking problem that made bad situations worse. Patrick himself became an alcoholic. He quit 21 years ago.
His mother died at 48. His birth father died early, and so did a brother. So, yeah, he's been knocked around a little by those crummy genes.
“I dealt with a lot of things as a kid and I think the more adversity you face, unfortunately, and if you're able to overcome it when you're young, you come to learn and grow from that,” Bohan said. His doctor marvels over his resilience; Bohan is thankful for it.
Patrick is on another comeback and we should take him seriously. The man is strapped to a bomb—that heart issue, the threat of infection—but his courage is beyond belief. He said this:
“I have no plans to sell my time trial bikes. There is nothing wrong with hope.”
Patrick asks that you look at this web site and consider its message. It will save a life. Yes, it will.
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