There’s a new rider at the top of the individual leader board for the National Bike Challenge: Michael Lemuel. But who’s the man behind that purple and white shield, logging a mind-boggling number of miles deep in the Kansas heartland?
Well, Michael Lemuel isn’t your average cyclist (and we’re not just talking about superhuman stamina). He’s a disabled veteran on a limited income — $123 per month, plus government-assisted housing/food — who’s taken the lead in the Challenge despite suffering from epilepsy and ringing in his ears so intense that it causes chronic insomnia.
Michael was kind enough to share his story in this week’s Challenge Recap…
How and when did you start riding?
Before, I can remember. I think I was four years old. It’s one of the family stories because, the first time I rode a bicycle, my dad put the training wheels on, and I was off. Then dad decided to give me a chance with no training wheels — and they never were put back on. My earliest memory of being on a bike was at five-years-old and climbing on an old banana seat cruiser. It was way too big for me, but I’d ride it up and down the block from the moment I got out of school until my mom would call me in for the night.
Why did you decide to participate in the National Bike Challenge?
Kaw Valley Bicycle Club (featured in last week’s recap) and Topeka Community Cycling Project (TCCP) were planning Bike Month activities with the city of Topeka. Tee KVBC president told us of the Challenge, and we were trying to get local businesses, and even government bodies, to compete against each other for fun (and bragging rights). None of the “profit” bike shops wanted to particapate so TCCP challenged KVBC (all in good fun, of course). I really only planned on helping my team compete against KVBC, but then I found my city, workplace, team and myself all in the top 10 percent with Kansas in the top 10. From there it just so much bigger than our two teams. I won’t lie: I was constantly thinking, “I’m in the top 1 percent, .5 percent, .01 percent.” It made me feel both special and important.
You ride a really impressive number of miles per day —what’s your average day like? Where do you go, where do you ride?
4:30 a.m.: ALARM!, five minutes later… ALARM!… until I can force myself out of bed. Light breakfast (Ensure, banana, protein bar, and a NOS if I can afford it) and other morning routines.
5:45 a.m.: I’m out the door, check the temps, winds, and pick a direction. I prefer the Shunga Trail because of the flat layout, but they get boring fast, and it’s hard to find other cyclist to chat with. That’s when wind directions come into play. I’ll figure out approximately how many miles I’ll be able to get in before lunch and keep winds perpendicular to me (choosing crosswinds).
11:00-11:30 a.m.: Return home for any additional water, and things needed after lunch.Then go downtown for lunch at the food bank for 2-3 trays.
1:00 p.m.: Start the afternoon ride. The path is determined the same way as the morning ride, but I also have to consider any appointments, or events I need to be at (doctors, shopping, meetings with businesses, community rides, or working at the non-profit bike shop (Topeka Community Cycle Project) for which our team is named. If I’m running behind in my daily goal then I’ll try to squeeze in a few more miles in town. Then, it’s time to go home, cook a quick dinner for a small army (of one!), log or correct miles, check the mail/messages, see if rankings updated, and hit the sack ASAP.
What inspires you to continue to ride so many mile — even when you might feel tired or the distance seems daunting?
Just one more!!! It’s not the next town, mile, or another block: it’s just one more revolution. If I have to use my arms to push my leg through JUST 1 MORE, it’s just what I’m gonna have to do. Even more important than the physical fitness is the psychological will power.
How has the Challenge impacted or improved your riding?
I’d say I was at 100-200 miles per month prior to the Challenge. I had done 50-60 miles in a day for various charity rides for a youth group when I was younger, but I thought those days were behind me. Now, I’ve regained my confidence, I’m doing well over 100 miles a day, and I’m looking forward to my first bi-century (200 mile day).
I hear you’re becoming a bit of a local celebrity —has your leadership caught the attention of fellow community members?
Attention, barely seems the word for it. People like the owner of BOSCO’S (who gave me $100 to help with food cost) are insisting I come by and update them on my mileage. He also bought a road bike now that he understands the purpose of its construction. People have started introducing their children (or grandchildren) to me to inspire them. The one thing that bothers me is when someone says I’m a celebrity, famous, or WORLD champion (which IF I place 1st, I guess I’ll just have to accept NATIONAL champion).
Do you have any overall goals for the Challenge?
Catch that guy in first place! Just joking! That came from Eric Nordgren this morning as he was explaining about his short-lived goal just after I passed Leonard Wright. My goals started with two Platinums (1,500 points) throughout the event. Then a platinum month, double platinum month, triple platinum month, and now I think I’m settling in for a 12 platinum event (18,000 points, 15,540 miles if I ride EVERY day). The goal is high. I even question my own sanity for coming up with it regularly, but having it is an edge. Upon completion I’ll have gone about the distance of coast to coast AND circumference of the continental U.S.!
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.