A great escape, with purpose and passion

Paul Rein

Editor’s note:  In the fall 2012 issue of DMU Magazine, we invited readers to respond to our “Great Escapes” cover story with their own such adventures. Paul Rein, D.O.’72, did just that, sharing his “escape” that took him from coast to coast and raised nearly $35,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Paul Rein, D.O.’72, knows many things, wisdom gained from the seat of a bicycle. The best roads and best drivers are in Kansas and Colorado; Missouri is home to the worst roads and most flies. He drank the best milkshake at the Dairy Café in Bluff, UT, and relished his most rewarding moment at the 11,312-foot summit of Monarch Pass, on the continental divide in Colorado.

More important, Rein knows the importance of family and friends; of finding a balance in one’s life; and in “finding something that you can do that provides personal satisfaction while doing good for others.” He lived all these lessons during the summer of 2011 when, as a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), he dipped his back bicycle tire in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego and, 67 days later, his front tire in the Atlantic in Virginia Beach, VA.

“It was the best experience of my life, short of the birth of my two children,” says Rein, an anesthesiologist in Newport News, VA.

A golf injury led Paul Rein to trade running for bicycling, which led to an epic and charitable adventure. “When you’re 64 years old and you tell people you’re riding across the country for leukemia, they listen,” he says.

Rein’s relationship with LLS began in 1967 when, as an undergraduate at Wayne State, he chaired a fundraiser for his fraternity to benefit the Children’s Leukemia Foundation, which netted $5,000. “That was a lot of money then,” he says. That was also when leukemia was a death sentence. Now, advances in detection and treatment enable the vast majority of leukemia patients to survive, albeit not without hardship.

“This ride may take me close to three months, but that’s nothing compared to what cancer patients go through during treatment,” he told The Health Journal prior to his trip. “Compared to being a parent of a child diagnosed with these diseases, my ride across our country will be a ‘chip shot.’”

Rein, who has two family members who have survived leukemia and lymphoma, has participated in many LLS fund-raisers. He kicked off his 2011 cross-country trek that June with the Lake Tahoe Century Ride, a 100-mile ride around the lake. “After finishing, I realized I can do this cross-country stuff,” he wrote on the blog he kept during his ride, coast2coastpaul.wordpress.com.

Rein, 64, plotted his cross-country path by stitching together routes offered by the Adventure Cycling Association. His son, Earon, worried about the heat of the California desert; his daughter, Kate, bought him a SPOT, a satellite messenger with GPS tracking he affixed to his bike so others could follow him online.

From a physical training point, however, Rein notes, “the only thing you can train is to get your butt in condition.” From a safety standpoint, he adds, “it helped to be naïve.” He’d changed a bike tire tube only once in all his riding. He had the first of his three flats on the trip on Interstate 10 crossing from California to Arizona; after managing to get the tire off, he discovered the CO2 cartridge he’d brought for such emergencies wasn’t working. Just then, a man bicycled up with a hand pump to fix the tire. “I was really fortunate, and what a great guy,” Rein says.

The man was one of many kind people Rein met on the trip, from the hotel managers who discounted his bill to the food vendors who fed him for free to “Marathon Martha,” a gas station staffer who inspired him with her tattoo signifying her son as a Hodgkin’s disease survivor. “I met 80 kazillion nice people,” Rein says.

Loved ones were hugely supportive, too. His significant other, Linda Bourdon, was his self-described “sag hag” for the first 17 days of his ride. Other family members and friends met up with him at points along his route. Pedaling alone, he says he was “never bored,” pondering topics ranging from business ideas to favorite songs to the national debt. He became philosophical about the importance of shoulders on roads, blogging, “If we didn’t have the support of shoulders either literally or figuratively, going through life would be so much more difficult.”

Rein also admits to some low moments in Kansas. “It’s a state that never ends, and I rode every day but one into the wind,” he says. “I yelled the ‘F’ word a few times.”

By great contrast, his arrival in Virginia Beach was “surreal.”

“A bunch of people with Team in Training were there,” he says, referencing the LLS organization for athletes who participate in its fundraising events. “It was a late afternoon but I wasn’t even tired. Seeing the people and the happiness on their faces was just so cool.”

With a final count on his bicycle odometer of 3,699.3 miles, Rein expressed gratitude on his blog to all who supported him and LLS and for “the good passion gene” given to him by his parents.

“Whether at work in wanting to be the best anesthesiologist and treat every patient as a VIP, or on the golf course wanting to shoot 68 and take money from my opponents, or riding 3,700 miles on a bicycle, I can honestly say I want to be the best,” he stated. “I know I will never accomplish that, but even now at my age that is my goal.”

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