CRESTVIEW — By all rights, John Rhodes shouldn't be bicycling around Florida. In fact, if his doctor had been right, he wouldn't even have been alive to visit Crestview.
To follow along on John's ride, visit his Google+ page: https://plus.google.com/117322044595025637984/posts>>
After riding almost 92 miles from Quincy Sunday, the 53-year-old Gainesville resident tooled into town Monday on a 2,900-mile statewide bicycling tour to raise awareness of diabetes.
After beating Type 2 diabetes himself, having had several mini-strokes, having "a blown left knee and a partially blown right knee," beating a diagnosed terminal melanoma, and being hit by a drunken driver, Rhodes has faced more than his share of challenges.
Diagnosed in 1998 with melanoma, a form of skin cancer, he decided to walk west from Gainesville to sort life out. When he reached New Orleans, he decided to keep going, winding up, still on foot, in Seattle.
"I thought I was going to die," Rhodes said. "Obviously I'm still alive."
After the drunk driver hit him while on a Portland, Maine-to-Miami awareness bike ride, Rhodes ended up in a motorized wheelchair for almost 11 years. His weight rose to 485 pounds.
Then the motor burned out on his wheelchair. With a thrift store crutch — and against doctor's orders — he decided he would walk again.
For more information on living with diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association page: www.diabetes.org>>
Quitting smoking, adjusting his eating habits and exercising helped Rhodes shed weight, lower his blood pressure and cholesterol, and beat Type 2 diabetes. Today he weighs 198 pounds.
Earlier this year, Rhodes decided to raise awareness of drunken driving’s hazards and, in May, began his state-wide cycling tour supporting Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
However, cycling through Central Florida in a region he described as "filled with rednecks," Rhodes had not only epithets but booze bottles hurled at him.
"'We like our beer!'" Rhodes said people shouted at him from their vehicles.
Change of mission
When the rear axle dropped off the custom-made quadricycle he'd been riding, Rhodes sold the vehicle and returned home to Gainesville to rethink his mission.
Buying a mountain bike with a child transport trailer from Wal-Mart, he changed his campaign to diabetes awareness and embarked again.
Along the way, Rhodes relies on donations from people he encounters to buy food and make repairs on the bike.
"A tire here, a tube there, brakes, food — it adds up pretty quick," Rhodes said. "The Wal-Marts along the way have been real good to me."
However, he stressed, raising money is not the focus of his trek. Rather, it’s engaging the people he meets and sharing his life story to encourage others to make lifesaving lifestyle changes.
"Riding the bike doesn't do anything," Rhodes said. "It's not reaching people. You don't reach people until you talk to people."
Yesterday morning, John Rhodes was on the road again, heading east on U.S. Highway 90 to Pensacola. When he's completed the Panhandle segment, he'll be ready to tackle the south-central part of Florida.
"Don't accept a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes," Rhodes said. "Make changes to your lifestyle habits. And exercise!"
You may also visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation page at http://jdrf.org>>
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.