Thousands of miles and there's no signs of stopping---not even being hit by a car.
John Stephen Rhodes, a resident of Gainesville, Fla. for the past 14 years, is on a 2,900 mile bicycle tour of the state, raising awareness for diabetes. He's sharing his story, sharing his personal secret to success, along the way.
Rhodessaid it all began when he was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer, in 1998. He said he didn't know what to do. He was living in Portland, Maine at the time and just decided to go for a walk.
"I just wanted to see how far I could walk before dying," Rhodes said. "It turned out to be a misdiagnosis, but I didn't find out until four or five years later."
He walked from Maine, nearly 1,700 miles south to Miami. When he got there, he said he decided to venture on from Miami to New Orleans and then hoofed it to Seattle. From Seattle, he chose to return to Miami.
In June of 2002, he was riding a bicycle from Maine to Miami, on a tour of the east coast, when he was struck by a drunken driver in Columbia, South Carolina. The accident shattered his leg, "blew out" his knees and ruptured his liver. He carries x-rays of his shattered bones in a trailer behind his bicycle, helping to explain his story.
Rhodessaid the accident left him in a wheelchair, unable to walk. Doctors told him he would never be able to walk again. There were multiple discussions of amputation of his shattered leg. The tibia and fibula were removed and replaced with metal rods.
Rhodessaid he was in that chair for 11 years, slowly losing confidence in himself. The now 53-year-old man said he "blossomed" into 410 pounds during that time, eating mainly one meal a day and unable to fully exercise his body. He was diagnosed with type-II diabetes while in the wheelchair. He was also suffering from Transient Ischemic Attacks, also known as "mini-strokes."
In 2011, he bought a set of crutches from a thrift store. Rhodes described them as old, yellow crutches with nothing but bare wood for support. There was no pad or comfort.
"They were made for someone much shorter than me, probably around 5'7" or 5'8" Rhodes said. "I'm 6'1."
For the next eight to nine months, he taught himself to walk. Starting in small, uneasy steps, he slowly climbed out of the chair and learned how to use his lower body again, Rhodes said.
He said he learned a valuable lesson during that struggle.
"If you take a large step, you're going to fall." Rhodes said. "You're going to misstep. It's the little steps. With little steps, you keep going and when you look back, you end up with a new habit that can put you on the road to new health."
Rhodes, a dinner chef and trained culinary chef, modified his diet with the same mantra. He slowly altered the way he ate, discussing ideas with nutritionists, eventually finding a nutritional plan that worked. He also began exercising in small steps, riding a bicycle.
He says by cutting out chocolate, potatoes and spinach, he was able to reduce the amount of sugar in his blood. He started eating a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein from beans and granolas. Using his culinary background, Rhodes designed dishes to keep food healthy and flavorful.
Today, he weighs 180 pounds, says he no longer has type 2 diabetes. Because of his actions, his small steps, he no longer has high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
He's currently en route back to Gainesville on the last leg of this part of his five part journey. Though he is not accepting personal donations, he did want to remind the public of two organizations, if they choose to contribute to the cause.
The American Diabetes Organization is influential in passing along information and literature about the disease to the public. Their website can be found at www.diabetes.org. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Organization is focused on diabetes research and setting up local programs. Their website can be found at www.jdrf.org.