Cyclist Joe Williams has been the face of Parkinson’s disease in Durango since his diagnosis in 2010.
Williams, 64, said he has three passions: golfing, fly-fishing and biking, and each activity helps to keep the neurological pathways from his brain to his body active.
He is a familiar face at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic but insists that was not the plan.
“I said I would never ride in the Iron Horse because I hate climbing mountain passes,” Williams said with a laugh.
But his friends managed to talk him into it, and his five-time completion of the Iron Horse became the inspiration behind a new cycling event, said Gaige Sippy, Iron Horse Bicycle Classic director.
While most cyclists race to beat the train on the 48-mile journey from Durango to Silverton at the 46th annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, another group will demonstrate what it means to live well with Parkinson’s disease.
The Parkinson’s peloton will represent the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s in the Quarter Horse, a 25-mile tour from Durango to Purgatory Resort. The ride will start at 8:15 a.m. Saturday in the Wells Fargo parking lot and features 2,300 vertical feet of climbing with a festival at the finish line.
The cyclists will use adaptive e-bikes on their journey, allowing them to engage an electric motor to make pedaling easier. The bike must be continuously pedaled to activate the motor.
“We like the idea of the pedal-assist bike, and we are big supporters because there are multiple applications for it,” Sippy said.
Sippy added that e-bikes allow people who aren’t physically able to ride a regular bike to participate in events they might not be able to otherwise.
The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has partnered with the Davis Phinney Foundation since 2014, Sippy said. Williams’ “Go Joe Go” cycling team has raised more than $117,000 for the foundation and locally administered Parkinson’s programs.
“People living with Parkinson’s can have balance challenges and strength issues, but the demonstration of e-bikes shows others that there are alternative ways to participate in these events,” said Chris Brewer, director of development with the Davis Phinney Foundation.
The nonprofit was founded in 2004 by Davis Phinney, a retired professional bicycle racer with Parkinson’s disease and a career that spanned two decades. The foundation funds research into Parkinson’s and works to improve the quality of life for those with the disease.
Brewer said the foundation expects about 10 cyclists in the Quarter Horse, many of whom are traveling from the Boulder area to participate because “they realize how important it is to demonstrate this ability.”
Sippy said that a portion of the proceeds from the Quarter Horse will be donated to the Davis Phinney Foundation and the rest will stay in Durango, where it will go toward wellness programs managed by Mercy Regional Medical Center for those with Parkinson’s.
Williams couldn’t be more proud of the awareness raised and money donated. This year, he will ride in the Quarter Horse.
“I ride for those who can’t and that makes me emotional … That ride to Purgatory is mostly uphill and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Those people are going to kick ass on those e-bikes,” Williams said.