When Allen Baumgartner got the key to Ocean City this
week, the first thing he wanted to do was jump in the ocean. The next thing he
wanted was a hamburger.
Baumgartner, a St. Louis, Mo. native, was presented with
the key to the city from Mayor Rick Meehan on Monday morning after a two-month
journey from St. Louis to Ocean City on a bike.
Baumgartner had been biking toward the coast since April
28 on a specially made hand-cycle, in hopes of raising money and awareness for
Friedrich’s Ataxia, a progressive neurological disease that affects the muscles
and the heart and has confined him to a wheelchair since 2008.
“It’s not everyday that you receive such an immense honor
and to cap off my journey with such an honor was just so moving for me and my
family,” said Baumgartner. “All I wanted to do was jump in the ocean when I
reached the coast, and hug my kids of course because I missed them so much.
But, afterwards, we were riding up to get a burger at a local place and I stuck
my head out the window to ask where we should go to another car at a stoplight,
and I just had to show my key to the city, too. I mean, how often does this
type of thing happen to you?”
Baumgartner’s infectious positive attitude and tremendous
drive was noticed in Washington, D.C. by Meehan during a recent media tour.
After learning that the 32-year-old Baumgartner had hoped
to finish his trip at the Atlantic Ocean, Meehan invited him to finish in Ocean
“He’s an inspirational guy and we applaud his efforts, and
we thought, what better place for him to finish his trip, than right here in
Ocean City,” said Meehan.
Baumgartner is a former Fire and EMS Paramedic, whose wife
noticed a little hobble in his walk around 2007. He says that within a year or
being diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia, he went from a limp, to having to use
a cane, to being confined to a wheelchair at just 30 years old.
“It was a bit of a surprise because it was so sudden, and
I was told that usually symptoms surface when you are like 10 years old with
this disease, not when you my age,” he said. “After about a year of having some
rough times with all that had happened, I made a conscious decision to get out
of my own head and start to help people in any way that I could. So, I came up
with this crazy idea over a cup of coffee with my wife after I woke her up at 3
in the morning.”
Originally, Baumgartner was armed with little more than an
idea, which in the beginning involved a journey in a racing wheelchair from St.
Louis to the west coast.
However, after speaking with Kelly Behlmann, founder of
the Disabled Athlete Sports Association (DASA), who also sponsors Baumgartner,
his idea evolved into the use of a state-of-the-art, three-wheeled hand-cycle,
and switching the destination from the west coast to the east coast.
“I think raising the money for the trip was harder than
the actual trip,” said Baumgartner. “I trained everyday for about a year, going
anywhere from 16-32 miles a day in preparation for this. Now that I’m finished
with the trip, I guess I didn’t even realize how far I had gone because my
whole mentality the entire time has been, ‘wherever I am, that’s where I am’
kind of thing. I’m a very in the moment kind of guy.”
After traveling more than 1,000 miles over mountains and
seemingly never ending states, Baumgartner credits prayer and meditation as
well as the interesting characters he met along the way to help him combat the
struggle and the often-lonely moments of the trip.
“There was a point in Kentucky where I realized that I was
a long way from home, and I still had an awfully long way to go that I started
questioning what I was doing,” he said. “I was always the dad that was always
around, and this is the longest I’d ever been away from my wife and kids. My
heart would just hurt from being away from them and that was so much harder
than any of the mileage was on my body or mind.”
A stop at Walter Reed Hospital proved to be one of the
most inspirational experiences for Baumgartner, as he traded stories and gave a
few disabled veterans a ride on his now infamous hand cycle.
“We had people all along the way sign the van [which
followed Baumgartner throughout the trip], and here was this hero of our
country, who took a 10-minute ride on the bike, that wrote ‘thanks for the new
beginning.’ He told me that was the most alive he had felt in three years. It
was just so moving to me,” he said.
Amazingly, Baumgartner only had one flat tire the entire
trip, and made it from St. Louis to Ocean City on the same set of tires. Now,
as he heads back to St. Louis with his family, and the key to Ocean City, he
says he’s eyeing up either the original journey to the west coast, or a
possible Olympic quest for 2012.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, I might make a go
for either one of those, but I’m going to wind down a bit first, he said; “when
I was riding down highway 1 through Rehoboth to Ocean City on the last day I
remember thinking, ‘when am I going to see the ocean’, and once I saw it, it
really started to hit me what I had accomplished. You either get started
stopping or get started going in this world.”
To learn more about Allen Baumgartner, click to http://www.fromheretothere2010.com.