[CR]Davis Phinney

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From: Rick Peoples <rickpeoples@hotmail.com>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 2008 15:49:56 +0000
Subject: [CR]Davis Phinney

I enjoy reading this list because I cut my teeth on cycling in the 70s and 80s. Still have 18 bikes covering about four decades, but that's not unusua l in this group. I got this article yesterday on Davis Phinney, one of my h eroes from back then, and was blown away. I thought you might enjoy it too. Hope it isn't too far off topic, apologies in advance if it is. For the Phinney Family, a Dream and a Challenge

By JULIET MACUR

BOULDER, Colo. \u2014 Like any proud father, Davis Phinney marvels at the man his son has become.

It is not because Taylor Phinney juggles his senior year\u2019s studies at Boulder High School while training a s an elite cyclist. Or because he speaks fluent Italian. Or that he is, accordin g to his coach, Neal Henderson, \u201cphysiologically phenomenal,\u201d a perfect comb ination of his parents.

What makes Davis Phinney most proud is something more personal. \u201cTo get the benefit of me,\u201d he often tells his son, \u201cyou have to be somewhat responsible for me, too.\u201d

And he has been. Nothing has made Taylor, 17, grow up faster than watching his father\u2019s body decay.

Phinney, 48, was a brazen sprinter and the star of the 7-Eleven professional cycling team in the 1980s and ear ly \u201990s. He was a risk-taker with beefy biceps, nicknamed Thor, the Norse go d of thunder.

Now, he fights his stiffening body just to roll over in bed because of the ravages of Parkinson\u2019s disease, a n incurable neurological disorder that attacks a body\u2019s mobility. He leans on his son, his daughter and his wife, Connie Carpenter, a two-sport Olympian. The y help butter his bread, button his shirts and open his pill bottles.

In return, Phinney has put treating his illness, and his pain, on hold.

On Wednesday, Taylor will compete in the individual pursuit at the world championships in Manchester, England. H e is tied for third in the overall world rankings and could earn a spot on the United States team for the Beijing Olympics by finishing seventh or better. If he wins, he will secure his place at the Games in August.

Whether Taylor talks about his Olympic dream or his family\u2019s challenges, the philosophy remains the same .

\u201cThe difference is not accepting that you will lose, just deciding not to give up,\u201d he said. He thanked hi s father for teaching him that.

Davis Phinney is in England for the championships, nine days before he is scheduled to have a brain operation t o ease the symptoms of his disease. He could have had the operation sooner, b ut he wanted to watch his son and allow him to race with a clear mind.

\u201cYou have to wait until you\u2019re really ready to have people drill holes in your head and stick probes in yo ur brain,\u201d he said. \u201cI didn\u2019t want to worry Taylor, or have it affect hi m negatively, and I know it would have, because that\u2019s just the dynamic of our family.\u201d

It Is in the Genes

Championship DNA courses through Taylor Phinney\u2019s 6-foot-4 frame.

His father remains the leader in race victories by an American, with more than 300. He was the first America n to win a road stage of the Tour de France. At the 1984 Olympics, he won a bron ze medal in the team time trial.

Taylor\u2019s mother was 14 when she finished seventh in the 1,500-meter speedskating event at the 1972 Olympics . At the University of California, she became a national champion in rowing. She won the gold medal in the debut of Olympic women\u2019s road cycling in 1984, 10 m onths after marrying Phinney.

Carpenter, 51, likes to say that she went fast \u2014 as a speedskater, a rower and a cyclist \u2014 because her mothe r could not. Her mother, Darcy Carpenter, battled multiple sclerosis while raising four children. She died at 55.

\u201cWhen you have a parent with a disease, I think it gets inside of you and changes you very subliminally, \u201d Carpenter said. \u201cMy mother would look at me and say, \u2018I don\u2019t know ho w you do all of these extraordinary things.\u2019 And I would think, how could I do the se things? Me? My gosh, you are the one who is extraordinary.\u201d

She sees that same brilliance in her husband, whom she coaxes out of the house for a hike or bike ride, even whe n he feels miserable. \u201cLet\u2019s just try,\u201d she will say.

Friends and family call her \u201cbroad-shouldered Connie\u201d because she seems to bear everyone\u2019s burden s. She handles her son\u2019s travel plans, fills out his drug-testing paperwork and accompanies him to races in China and Australia. She drives her 13-year-old daughter, Kelsey, to Nordic ski practice, then rushes home to cook.

\u201cMy sense is that Connie is the one that really knows what struggles are ahead and what life will be like down the road for Davis and her family,\u201d said Ron Kiefel, a former teammate of Dav is Phinney who remains close to the family. \u201cShe knows the potential end gam e, but she is not one of those people who crumples up and falls apart when there \u2019s a challenge. She\u2019s a superwoman.\u201d

Her husband started an organization in his name, the Davis Phinney Foundation, and gives motivational speeches to Parkinson\u2019s patients, pushing them to celebrate every victory, however sm all, like tying their shoes. The high doses of medication he needs to get throug h those talks cause side effects, like the involuntary swaying of his head. B ut he endures.

Carpenter senses that Taylor is inspired by his father\u2019s determination to stay positive.

\u201cIt has shown him how much you can impact others and how cool it is to be known for something,\u201d she said. \u201cThere\u2019s a magic to that, and I do think it lights T\u2019s fire.\u201d

On a trip to the 2005 Tour de France, Taylor, then 15, fell in love with the family business. He needed o nly two years to become one of the world\u2019s best track cyclists.

His first bike race was in 2006. Last year, he won the time trials at the junior road world championships. I n October, a month after riding on a velodrome for the first time, he won the United States elite track nationals.

Excluding Taylor, the average age for the top dozen riders in the individual pursuit is 28. The cyclist in se cond is twice Taylor\u2019s age. Surrounded by others with experience, he indeed dr aws motivation from his father.

\u201cI remember him being very playful and fit all the time, so it\u2019s hard for us to see him struggle the way he does,\u201d Taylor said. \u201cI know sometimes he wishes he could pull me up some hill, d rop me at the end and sprint away, but there are little things he does for himself where he finds happiness. It makes me feel good for him to see my results, because I enjoy making him a little happier than he would be every day.\u201d

The Onset of Parkinson\u2019s

Davis Phinney always felt invincible.

But in his 30s, his left leg began to cramp and tingle. His left foot would go numb or drag. He was often exhausted and had difficulty concentrating.

Doctors suggested that his symptoms could be a result of a bike crash in 1988, when he flew through the window of a team car. Or it could be a brain tumor.

About 1.5 million Americans have received a diagnosis of Parkinson\u2019s disease, but only 5 to 10 percent lea rn of it before age 40, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. Davis Phi nney was among the few.

Here was a handsome, outgoing pitchman for cycling in the United States who had to quit his job as a TV announcer for bike races because he could no longer hold a microphone. He w as facing a disease that would steal his independence. His son was 9, his daug hter 6.

\u201cBack then, the kids were more concerned about having mac-and-cheese for lunch; they didn\u2019t think their father was different than anyone else\u2019s,\u201d Carpenter said. \u201cFor us, it was de vastating. I don\u2019t think anything prepares you for the news that you basically aren \u2019t ever going to get better.\u201d

Phinney had no place to hide. In public, people sometimes thought he was drunk because he moved slowly and slurred his words. At home, he felt uncomfortable, his body turning rigid a s if locked in a suit of armor and his left hand shaking so violently that he of ten sat on it to keep it still.

\u201cIt\u2019s miserable, like the permanent scratching of fingernails on a chalkboard,\u201d he said.

In 2002, the family decided to start over, trading life in Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, fo r one in Italy, in the foothills of the Dolomites.

They relied on their Carpenter-Phinney bike camps to pay the bills as they settled into a house in Marostica, Italy, a medieval town with cherry trees, green hills and vineya rds. There, the family worked together to help Phinney manage his disease.

Carpenter did not mind running the family\u2019s camp and the house while Phinney spent time with the children. S he knew they were on the clock.

Phinney was changing fast. His face took on a mask-like expression. He fell into depression, embarrassed by the stares, exhausted by the trembling. He began to take medication but knew it s effectiveness would diminish over time.

\u201cIt\u2019s very easy to disappear into your own personal closet and disappear from society,\u201d he said. \u201cI know that feeling acutely.\u201d

When home alone, his wife would gaze from a rear window at the rolling hills. An olive tree was in the backyard, and a small church, St. Agatha\u2019s, was in the distance. She often painted to e ase her mind.

\u201cThere\u2019s a lot of sadness to see your best friend go through something like this,\u201d she said. \u201cIt can be really painful. It would be foolish to think that I didn\u2019t lose something, too. It isn\u2019t fair.\u201d

Trying to Win Back a Life

In January, Phinney spoke to Parkinson\u2019s patients at a speech therapy clinic in Boulder.

\u201cThe disease does strip some of our basic abilities away,\u201d he told them. \u201cBut that doesn\u2019t mean we have n o control over it.\u201d

Parkinson\u2019s often softens a person\u2019s voice, so he encouraged them to reconnect with people by speaking louder, making eye contact and forcing a smile.

\u201cIt\u2019s just those little bits of joy that make you feel better,\u201d he said, as audience members wiped away tears . \u201cI know it\u2019s just so easy to not do that, but you have to try.\u201d

Though he has skipped most of Taylor\u2019s far-off races because the travel is so arduous, Phinney said he never would have missed seeing his son at the world championships.

Then, whether Taylor wins or loses, Phinney will finally have his brain surgery.

Next Friday, he will undergo deep brain stimulation, an effort to control some of his symptoms. Electrodes wi ll be placed in both sides of his brain. A pacemaker-like device will be put i n his chest.

Dr. Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University Medical Center who will perform the operation, said he hoped Phinney would focus on his recovery.

\u201cI know Taylor is doing great things, but sometimes you have to put everything else aside and start worry ing about your own health,\u201d he said.

In rare cases, these operations can lead to coma and death, Henderson said, though he expects Phinney\u2019s to go smoothly. He said this could allow Phinney to take less medicine. It could, he said, \u201cgive him his life back.\u201d

The operation could result in slurred speech or trouble remembering words. Phinney admits to being scared , though he has not yet told Taylor many of the details.

In August, if all goes well, he intends to be in Beijing, a new man watching his son ride fast, as he once did.

\u201cI could easily slip into a very, very dark place with everything I\u2019ve lost, so I have to focus on the pinp ricks of light to stay positive,\u201d he said. \u201cBut with Taylor, it\u2019s easier. I
   just look at what he has been doing, and I\u2019m instantly connected to a magnificent s ource of energy.\u201d