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Greenville woman cycled across the U.S. for good cause

Dec 31, 2014 11:52AM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Friedman riding in New York.

Gallery: Profile Friedman [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared in our Winter 2014 edition):

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

On August 24, Beth Friedman dipped the wheels of a bike into the Pacific Ocean and embarked on a 3,600-mile ride of a lifetime, starting in Astoria, Oregon and heading east toward Portland. Over the course of the next 44 days, the Greenville resident biked an average of 92 miles a day across the U.S., raising money and awareness about Parkinson’s disease.

Friedman’s inspiration for the ride was her father, Tom McDowell, a man who has inspired her all her life. She considers him her hero.

“A hero is someone who leads by example and uses his positive attitude to affect the world around him,” Friedman wrote on a blog post about her trip. “Throughout his nine-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Dad has been a stellar example of strength and bravery to everyone around him.”

According to Friedman, her father has been facing the degenerative neurological disorder with the same, resolute “Semper Fi” attitude with which he served his country in the Korean War.

“My dad was a Marine for four years,” Friedman explained. “He helped raise six children and he always encouraged us in whatever we were doing. He’s always been this incredibly positive person. You hear about people who look at the glass as being half-full and others who look at the glass as being half-empty. He’s someone who looks at the glass and it’s overflowing. He always chooses to be positive and that’s what he’s doing with Parkinson’s.”

Friedman said that her father’s Parkinson’s diagnosis came after he suffered some problems with his his back and some rigidity when he was walking. He continues to struggle with those symptoms, which come and go, and also suffers from issues with his vocal cords. He does not have tremors, a common affliction associated with Parkinson’s. The way that he has responded to the ailment has been an inspiration, and Friedman wanted to do something to help others with Parkinson’s. She knew about the good work of the Michael J. Fox Foundation—the actor suffers from the disease—and wanted to help that organization. Her father had inspired a love of outdoors, so cycling across the country seemed like a good way to not only raise money for the cause, but honor him, too.

“I love to travel and I love to travel by bike,” Friedman explained, noting that she only took up cycling about three years ago after an injury forced her to curtail running.

Once Friedman decided that she was going to make the cross-country journey in January, she stepped up her training. She was not at all sure that she would be able to accomplish the feat even though she has several impressive athletic accomplishments on her resume. She has run marathons on seven different continents, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, but it would take a lot of hard work to prepare for this 44-day endurance test.

“I’m always looking to challenge myself physically,” Friedman explained. “I like to live an active lifestyle. Even when I go on vacation, I like to incorporate different activities.”

She would routinely bike between 45 and 90 miles at a time trying to prepare herself for the long rides. By August, she was able to do back-to-back 100-mile rides.

Whenever she got discouraged or felt like the rides were too exhausting, she thought about all the Parkinson’s sufferers.

“I ride because I can,” Friedman explained. “I think about the people with Parkinson’s who want to ride, but might not be able to.”

In late August, she joined 21 other bicyclists who were taking part in the same tour of the northern tier of the U.S. that was arranged by Trek Travel. Most of the cyclists were making the trip for fun, but Friedman was one of three who were using it as a fundraiser for a cause. Trek Travel’s schedule had a strict schedule that had to be adhered to: Over the course of 44 days, the cyclists had to cover an average of 92 miles per day, with just four of those days reserved as off days.

“It didn’t matter how you felt or what the weather was like, you rode 40 out of 44 days,” Friedman explained. “Everything was planned out in approximately 100-mile increments each day.”

She didn’t have to get too far into the cross-country adventure to realize how rigorous the trip was going to be.

“Iowa is not flat at all,” Friedman said with a laugh. “You’re either going up or you’re going down. It was not flat.”

She had a close call in Iowa when a cyclist in front of her went down as a result of an accident. She was able avoid the other rider, but she did suffer a road burn during the incident.

Another difficult stretch of the ride was when the cyclists approached the Rocky Mountains on long, steep roads that went up and up and up.

As she made her way across country, Friedman stayed in touch with family and friends by texting, calling, and emailing. She also posted regular updates on a blog.

The most beautiful part of the trip, she said was the New England area.

“I really liked the scenery and the variety of the roads,” she explained.

Ohio was another highlight because she was pleasantly surprised at how many bike trails the state has. Even as she approached the center of a major city like Cleveland, the riders were able to stay on bike trails.

She will always remember the pleasing smell of alfalfa in bloom in Wyoming.

She will cherish many memories from the trip across the U.S., and is proud of the fact that she cycled every inch of the trip across the U.S., but she was very happy to complete the ride on Oct. 6 and return home and see her family again. It was difficult being away from her family, including her husband, Eddie, and their two grown children.

“This was by far the longest I had ever been away, and I realized how much I missed seeing my family,” she explained.

Friedman said that her father was very proud that she made the ride to raise money for the fight against Parkinson’s disease. She has already collected more than $17,000 in contributions as a result.

“Dad taught me the importance of family and to work hard for what I believe in,” Friedman explained.

She definitely believes in the work that the Michael J. Fox Foundation is doing. The organization has a unique model that is very personal and very effective at making sure that the funds that are raised are used for aggressive research to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Eighty-eight cents of every dollar raised by The Michael J. Fox Foundation goes directly to research program efforts. Since 2000, the foundation has funded more than $450 million in Parkinson’s research. The organization’s Team Fox is a grassroots initiative to help raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s research as members take part in various activities—running marathons, flipping pancakes, climbing mountains, hosting concerts, or golfing for a cure.

“They are doing some amazing things,” Friedman said, noting that medical researchers have done a good job of coming up with different combinations of medications to help treat patients.

Friedman is still collecting contributions for the fight against Parkinson’s. A blog about her journey across the country and information about how to contribute to Team Fox can be found at www.p2p4parkinsons.com.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.

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