A grandfather is someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart. - Author Unknown
If you are a parent, you know you would do anything for your children. And the same can be said for the love grandparents have for their grandchildren. But what about a grandparent willing to take part in a cross-country bike race for his grandchild? While many may find it physically prohibitive, that is exactly what 70-year-old Dave Sturgis plans to do this month as part of Team Laughing Dog in the Race Across America (RAAM), a 3,000 mile ride that is widely recognized as the world’s toughest endurance bicycle race. And he’s hoping his efforts will save his grandchild’s life.
Sturgis’ grandson, 8-year-old Henry (Hank) Sturgis, was born with a rare disease — cystinosis. Cystinosis is a genetic disease that causes the amino acid, cystine, to accumulate in the body’s cells. As it accumulates, it destroys some of the body’s organs, including the kidneys, liver, muscles, white blood cells, eyes and central nervous system. It is extremely rare, afflicting only 500 people nationwide and 2,000 worldwide.
Sandpoint’s Team Laughing Dog, which has taken part in the Race Across America for the last several years, is riding to raise funds to benefit the 24-Hour for Hank Foundation; a foundation started by Dave Sturgis’ son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Tricia Sturgis, in 2008.
From the moment Brian and Tricia first learned of their son’s disease, they have worked tirelessly to find a cure. And while there is not a cure as of yet, there have been huge strides towards that goal.
“Hank’s health is so much better because of the new 12-hour delayed release medication… there are less side effects like nausea and vomiting. Hank learned how to take all of his liquid meds that he used to take through his tube in pill form now, so he was able to get his g-tube removed in April. It is a huge milestone for him and our family,” said Tricia who adds that Hank takes 48 pills each day just to stay alive. “The typical cystinosis patient takes 8 to 12 medications a day.”
In addition, Hank must have eye drops placed in his eyes to prevent blindness. “The eye drops are supposed to be taken every hour, and we only do about three to four times a day,” said Tricia. They are stored in the fridge so the cold solution is hard to get in a child’s eyes. With advancements, we might have a different delivery method for this drug, which would be wonderful since this treatment is not easy to be compliant with.” Bike mechanics are a vital part of the support team during Ride Across America.
At the time they formed their foundation, there were only two other foundations that supported cystinosis research. “Now there are 30 families (who have them),” said Dave Sturgis, adding that 24-Hours for Hank is one of the top fundraising entities in the country for cystinosis research.
So just how is it that Dave Sturgis finds himself as part of a huge athletic challenge? Last year Sturgis took part in the race as one of the support members. He drove one of the vans while Sandpoint resident and biking enthusiast Mel Dick navigated. It was then Dick planted the seed for Sturgis to take part in the Race Across America as a rider. “Mel said he would love to find a cure for Henry and said he believed it could be done through Team Laughing Dog,” said Sturgis. That was all he needed to hear. With all the support his son, daughter-in-law and grandson had already received from Team Laughing Dog, there was no way he could say no.
Dave started training last October and, with the help and encouragement of Dick, feels ready to face the challenge. He is grateful to the sponsors who have stepped up, especially given the fact that this year’s fundraiser 24-Hours at Schweitzer, which benefits the foundation, was canceled due to lack of snow. “The biggest part of that fundraiser was the pledges,” said Dave Sturgis, who shared that the sponsors who were committed for the ski event have graciously rolled over the funds to the Race Across America instead. Race Across America spans 3,000 miles from coast to coast.
While the challenge would be a great one for anyone, much less a 70-year-old, Dave Sturgis has always been athletic. He played football for Western Oregon and signed with the New Orleans Saints where he played in 1968 and part of the 1969 season. He continued an active lifestyle and became more involved in cycling in 1990 when his running partner had issues with his knees. But riding across the country is something he never envisioned himself doing. “As a kid I always rode my bike to town. It was five miles, and I thought that was forever,” recalls Dave.
Since he began training in October, Sturgis has lost 40 pounds and feels great. “Mel keeps me accountable,” said Sturgis of his training partner.
The 3,000-mile race will begin in Oceanside, California and end in Annapolis, Maryland. And once the race starts, it never stops. To put it in perspective, Dick shares that the Tour de France covers 2,100 to 2,200 miles over a 21- day period; the Race Across America covers 3,000 miles, and team racers are required to finish in nine days. “And there is 170,000 feet of climbing on this ride,” adds Dick. “That’s like riding up Schweitzer 70 times.”
So just why would people take part in such a grueling activity? If you think it may be for prize money, nothing could be further from the truth. There is not any monetary recognition for the top finishers. “Everyone who does it has a cause. Collectively it raises about $2 million each year,” said Dick.
The Race Across America has approximately 75 participants who are solo riders and others who are part of either a two, four or eight person team.
This year’s Team Laughing Dog will consist of Sturgis; Kirk Johnson, who is an employee of Schweitzer and who served as crew chief for Team Laughing Dog the first four years; Arlene Cook, who is the head of the Schweitzer ski patrol; and Bob Robinson, a 72-year-old friend of Dave Sturgis who has been a huge supporter of 24-Hours for Hank. “He bikes 200 miles a week and will probably be one of our best climbers,” said Dave.
As the time draws near for Dave Sturgis gets to get on his bike to trek across the country, he has only one goal in mind. To save his grandchild’s life. “My promise to Hank is to make his disease go away forever,” said Dave. “It is an investment in Hank’s future and his right to a quality life.”
If you would like to donate to Team Laughing Dog in support of 24-Hours For Hank, visit: www.active.com/donate/24hoursforhank2015/raam. To date they have raised $57,095 on the way to their goal of $100,000.