Chasing the Last Checkered Flag!

Art and I have for the last few years tried to find ways to define how we older athletes are living and thriving like no other time in our history. I’ve written articles trying to explain in some way how and why we are doing the things we are doing.

Art sent me the article you are about to read for two reasons, one it touches me in two areas, I am an older athlete and I’m also a Hospice volunteer. I’ve been a Hospice volunteer for ten years now and I can tell you one of the many misconceptions about Hospice is that it’s a death sentence. Yes in order to be eligible for Hospice care you must have been diagnosed by an MD to have six months or less to live. You must also have reached a point where you are no longer trying to cure the illness. Sadly a lot of physicians (For lots of reasons) do not recommend Hospice until the very end when it becomes a scramble just to make the patient comfortable.

Hospice is about comfort care, making the patient comfortable by managing their symptoms. Comfort care is about making the patient as comfortable as possible allowing them to live life to the fullest extent they can. Statistics show that people who go on Hospice tend to live longer. (Longer than six months many times)

In the article Wally has been told there is nothing more they can do for him and when he becomes a Hospice patient he discovers a whole new way to live out the rest of his life.

There are lessons for all of us in this article.

Doug 21J

Hospice Racing Is an End-Of-Life Celebration

When lifelong cyclist Wally Ghia found himself in hospice care, he embraced the time he had left in the saddle to inspire others in his situation

By ian dille November 1, 2016

The letter from the hospital read, “There is no longer anything we can do for you.”

The words read like a death sentence to Flavio “Wally” Ghia, 74. An avid cyclist, he’d been a masters state mountain bike champion in Arizona, and had managed regional bike racing teams sponsored by bike companies like Diamondback and Ritchey.

And he’d battled major health issues through it all: necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria that nearly took his leg; a fall from a mule, resulting in a debilitating head injury and nerve damage; and congestive heart failure that required him to intermittently use an oxygen tank to breathe. He wasn’t ready to stop living. But when Ghia was introduced to hospice care through Durango, Colorado’s Mercy Hospital, his perspective shifted.

“They told me, ‘We can take the pain away,’” says Ghia, who felt like hospice had saved his life.

For Ghia, hospice care wasn’t just about waiting for the inevitable, but about embracing the time before it. To that end, Ghia—who spent 57 years employed in product marketing—is working to start and promote a new cycling team named Hospice Racing that helps hospice residents live meaningfully.

"My honest belief is that if I raced, there are others out there who might just say, 'Hey, I think I could walk a 5K.' I’m not that terminally unique."

In September, Ghia competed in Salida, Colorado’s Banana Belt mountain bike race—relying heavily on painkillers and knowing he had little time left—for his new team. Bicycling spoke with Ghia about his life, Hospice Racing, and what it means to live.

BICYCLING: What led you to the start line with Hospice Racing? Wally Ghia: It started as a dark joke, a way to lighten the mood after I went into hospice care. My friends Joan and Peter picked me up from the hospital and said, “Hey, you could race for Hospice Racing.” We made up a snarky tag line, “Burying the Competition,” and I had some stickers printed up. We gave them out at the hospital, and people loved them. I thought, maybe I should actually do a race.

I called my friend Shawn Gillis, who owns Absolute Bikes in Salida, and he said, “This isn’t a bad idea.” At that point we changed the tag line to “A Happier Ending,” which is how I really feel in my heart.

How did the race go?

I made sure that I was about two hours into the morphine before the race. That was for pain management, and was on top of some of the other things that I take. I had two people holding me up on the start line, one in front, and one on my left side, in case I fell over a little bit. Well, I ended up on my ass. So Shawn ran and got this old beat up beach cruiser tandem. He said, “Get on the back, stick your feet out, and don’t pedal.” We went about three miles that way.

After the race, the winner, Nick Gould, a professional racer from Durango, he came up and asked to take a photo with me. At that point, I had my oxygen tank and mask back on to help me breathe.

Why do you think people connected with what you’re doing?

You’re not just sitting in a room, you know? There was no deception of me being a racing guy, okay. But I got to show up to the start line, and do something that I have loved for 39 years. That’s a long time loving something. I had someone tell me recently, “I’ve never seen anyone as happy in dying as you.” Hospice equals death. It just does. Friends of mine have stepped aside. They think you’ve got a black cat running around you. But you don’t. Hospice isn’t about dying. It’s about living.

Why now? Over my career I’ve designed and marketed everything from deodorants to douches. I know how to frame things. I just want to do something that’s worthy at the end here. I called my friends up 10 years ago and apologized to them for being part of a design world that fed them poison. When I designed Jell-O 1-2-3 in the ‘60s, I asked them, “What does that ingredient mean?” They told me, “We don’t know.” That always sored me. That was the same as getting that line in the letter, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

That’s one of the reasons I’ve tried and tried and tried to do things with an end game for cycling. As long as I can do this, I will do it.

What’s next? I’m preparing to do my second race. Nick Gould, the pro who won the race in Salida, is also a personal trainer, is helping me train and has expressed interest in growing Hospice Racing.

I ride outside four days a week, and walk or ride the trainer the other three days.

Hospice did an incredible thing for me, and I want to match that with Hospice Racing. Taking away the pain with the things that I’ve had, it’s like a miracle. I know it sounds so simple, but yeah, it was the pain. If I can tell that story through my story, that’s worthy.

Plus, my honest belief is that if I raced, there are others out there who might just say, “Hey, I think I could walk a 5K.”

I’m not that terminally unique.

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