Lou Lamoureux and Team Give Life Profiled by United Press International Wednesday, March 09, 2005
U.S. race tests transplant cyclist
By Stokely Baksh
Published 3/7/2005 5:10 PM
WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- Mental fatigue and hallucinations, lack of sleep, weather and terrain changes and "psychological warfare" -- this is what cyclists in this summer's Race Across America are facing.
One expert said, "How much you can hurt yourself, how much pain you can take, how long you can handle the pain ... that all depends on how successful you will be."
Among the hundreds of riders who will be answering these questions is kidney-transplant recipient Lou Lamoureux, 33, the first organ transplant recipient to enter the Race Across America -- a non-stop 3,000-mile ultra-racing marathon from San Diego to Atlantic City, N.J., in seven days.
The Virginian resident, part of the four-man Team Give Life, is cycling on behalf of the Give Life Foundation to raise at least $100,000 and public awareness for blood, tissue and organ donations.
By competing in the RAAM, the team hopes it can race against time for those who run a more profound race -- "the race to find a donor in time for a critical organ transplant or blood transfusion that will save their lives," according to the group's Web site.
"People with two kidneys have trouble riding," said Lamoureux who has to consider the health risks, including kidney failure and dehydration.
An experienced cyclist, Lamoureux became interested in the RAAM as a recovery patient from a 2000 transplant operation when he received a kidney from his mother, Donna, some 14 years after he found out that he had glomerulonephritishis, a type of disease resulting in eventual kidney failure.
"I tell people I traded a kidney for two grandchildren," says his mother who remembers her son walking around and waving to her the first day after his transplant surgery. "Now he's able to function, (and) he functions a lot more than other people."
Lamoureux, who has a wife and two children, explained he felt like Superman after the transplant and was back to cycling before doctors could say otherwise. Nine months later he rode in the PACtour and did hours of collegiate racing.
Now, an advocate for organ donations and transplants, Lamoureux has kept a Web log "Transplant Athlete" on cycling-videos.com since 2004 detailing his cycling routines, various diagnosis and doctor visits, transplant concerns and his fascination with the RAAM.
A member of the National Kidney Foundation's "Transplant Team" and several-time gold medalist recipient in the U.S. Transplant Games among his accomplishments, Lamoureux has come a long way and is the most experienced of his teammates in ultra-racing.
He hopes that this experience will help him as he attempts again to qualify for the RAAM race as a soloist in 2006, in which he must ride 425 miles in 24 hours in order to qualify.
Lamoureux, with fellow cyclists Bruce Deming, 48, and Bill Vosseller, 37, are looking for a fourth rider who will have to withstand one of the toughest ultra-racing competitions in the United States. Armed with three vehicles including an RV and no physician, they will pursue riding in some of the most difficult of U.S. weather and terrains.
It was Deming's idea to put together the team for the Give Life Foundation since he knew founders, Bart S. Fisher and Patrick Hughes, and their cause.
"It's an interesting cause," Deming said. "The problem is awareness and education ... it's about raising national consciousness and registering more people for organ and blood donations."
Deming played around with the idea of entering solo but decided on a four-person team to reduce the stress despite the still tremendous undertaken of riding for seven consecutive days and about six hours of riding for each cyclist.
"We won't be gaining weight that's for sure," joked Deming about the race. Lamoureux says that when the race is over, he thinks he'll have a big cheeseburger and lots of food.
All three have been training rigorous hours to increase their endurance and stamina, and plan to start training together as the race draws near.
"We're hoping to finish the race safely ... just finishing the race alone is an achievement in itself, but it'll be terrific if we finish strong," Deming said.
This year's RAAM kicks off June 9 marking its 24th year of tradition in ultra-racing, likening itself to the Tour de France. Solo racers start on June 19 while two- and four-person teams race three days later. However, unlike the Tour de France that goes on for 21 days, the RAAM is a continuous ride that tests cyclists' mental and physical capacities.
"The RAAM is America's answer to the Tour de France," said Deming. "It's the Super Bowl of cycling."
So far, 120 racers will ride through 14 states climbing mountains while battling tailwinds, heat and frigid weather.
Originally, started by four men who decided to take a trans-continental ride to see who would be the fastest to cross the country, the race has expanded in various categories, routes and procedures to attract potential riders as the race's popularity continues to grow.
"It's one of those races you enter and you want to stop or give up, but when you finish, you have this incredible ... tremendous sense of unity," said RAAM spokesperson and longtime cycle journalist Paul Skilbeck. "It's about a group of powerful human beings seeing what their capabilities are and seeing what they are capable of doing."
He added, "How much you can hurt yourself, how much pain you can take, how long you can handle the pain ... that all depends on how successful you will be."
About 50 percent of solo riders dropout while about 5 percent drop out in team categories, he said.
According to Race Director Jim Pitre, who has been involved with the race for seven years and directed the race for about four years, the RAAM is for experienced riders who have multiple years of serious cycling. Formerly having ridden the race, Pitre has been a key player in the RAAM's increasing popularity since the '80s.
Pitre said cyclists must face the race as a super-ultra-endurance exercise and must have be ready to train for the nutrition issues, varying weather conditions and sleep deprivation that comes along with it. He says that in Lamoureux's situation and the right training, that he could finish the race in a four-person team but the odds are greatest if he were to do it as a solo racer.
Still, Skilbeck points out cases like that of Lamoureux are inspirational and obtainable. He cites the case of another rider who was a Vietnam veteran whom lost his leg and finished the race as a soloist.
But Team Give Life isn't the only team raising awareness on a health issue or organ donations. Within the Corporate Challenge division, Team Donate Life consists of health care providers from the University of California-Davis Medical Center and a kidney donor who are also raising awareness for organ donations.
"The Tour de France had cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, well we have our transplant survivor," said Give Life Foundation's Bart Fisher.
For Fisher, Lamoureux's story is a case study that one can lead a great life after a transplant. But this isn't Give Life Foundation's first attempt to get the word out especially after the fact that no appropriations were made this fiscal year to the federal-based national donor registry organization created by the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act.
For Fisher, it's been a struggle of raising awareness since losing his son, Ivan, in the early 1980s to aplastic anemia, a once-life threatening disease that occurs when bone marrow stops making blood cells resulting in infections, bleeding and anemia. Channeling his grief into action, Fisher played a key role into the passage of the act.
However, Fisher said he believes that many people in the United States are uneducated about organ and marrow transplant and hopes that the team will bring attention to the topic.
"It's not so much a money issue, it's an awareness issue," Fisher said.
In the United States, more than 87,000 names reside on a waiting list for organ transplants.
Each day 70 people will have received an organ transplant but 16 will die waiting for transplant because of the shortage of donated organs, according to The United Network for Organ Sharing.
While approximately 900,000 people in the United States will receive tissue transplants and nearly 25,000 receive organ transplants each year, the waiting list for organ transplants grows at the rate of 1,000 per month while another name is added to the waiting list every 15 minutes. Read story at The Washington Times website.