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Cycling Helps Brighten Future For Asbestos Worker


In 1993, Waymon Shadwick was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS adversely affected his mobility, strength, vision and cognitive function. Waymon's prognosis was bleak. He had lesions in his brain which were stripping the myelin around his nerve endings. His doctors frankly advised him that unless he injected himself regularly with an experimental drug and radically changed his lifestyle, his days were numbered. He was only 37 years old.

Waymon was no stranger to adversity. For years he had worked in toxic clouds of asbestos, fumes and gases. From 1978 to the day of his diagnosis, Waymon belonged to

the Asbestos Workers Local 36 in Portland, Oregon. He had seen first-hand the grisly consequences of asbestos exposure. Many of his friends had passed away from lung cancer. Many others were wasting away. He was spending too much time at funerals.

In a strange way, the MS diagnosis helped change Waymon's fortunes for the better. Waymon stopped smoking. He watched his diet. He cut out the late-night carousing. He started to exercise. He bought a bicycle and started to ride. Cycling fit him like a glove. In a matter of months, Waymon's strength, balance and coordination improved. So did his attitude. Waymon enjoyed the freedom of the open road. Waymon had happily become another disciple of the "Church of the Spinning Wheel."

I met Waymon this summer at the Nike World Games in Portland, Oregon. He saw the "Asbestos Kills!" logo on my cycling shorts and introduced himself. I was immediately struck by Waymon's good cheer, positive karma and enthusiasm. He was competing in the 40-45 division. He knew his chances of standing on the winner's podium were slim, but that did not deter his will to compete. His goal was to finish the grueling 70 mile race.

As it turns out, I wasn't the only rider who was impressed with Waymon's exuberance. Waymon did indeed finish the race. He crossed the line several minutes after the winners had already taken apart their bikes and packed up their bags. The winner was Olav Stana of Kamloops, British Columbia. Olav was a perennial gold medalist at international competitions.

Olav had never met Waymon before, but he couldn't help noticing the Waymon's grit and determination. When the other racers were dropping out like dead flies, Waymon continued to push the pedals. After the race, Olav asked around and found Waymon's name and phone number. Olav called Waymon that night and asked him to meet him the next day before the hill climb (which, by the way, Olav won and smashed the course record for his third straight gold medal for the week).

Unbeknownst to Waymon, Olav was following Waymon's "tortoise-like" performance and was impressed with his perseverance. Olav whipped out his Gold Medal Winner's Jersey and handed it to Waymon. "You deserve it," Olav said. " You kept going when many others quit, even though they may have been fitter."

Wow! Waymon was stoked. "In a Sport where winner's jerseys are everything, I felt like I was on top of the world. The honor of a world class racer giving up his 1st place jersey was just unbelievable. I have never seen this in the big money commercialized sports. I will never forget Olav's gesture. It has spurred me on to become a better rider, racer and ambassador of the greatest sport there is, cycling."

A few weeks later, Waymon recorded a personal record in a 10 mile time trial, where he averaged just under 25 mph. A few years earlier, Waymon couldn't have averaged 25 mph for ten miles if he was coasting down Mt. Hood. This is the power of motivation, guts and grit.

Waymon is a gem, but he's not rare. He's one of the hundreds of unsung heros I have had the pleasure of knowing who refuse to quit. Whether it's asbestosis, lung cancer, MS or even a bike race, it takes courage to fight back. Nothing is handed to you. A champion ignores the pain and despair and keeps going. Waymon knows this. It's not magic or luck. Waymon could've given up when his doctors told him his future was dark. But he chose to turn his life around. It doesn't just happen. As Waymon knows, you have to make it happen.

We are proud to make Waymon Shadwick an honorary member of Team Labor Power.

Punch Worthington, Waymon Shadwick, and Roger Worthington

** POSTED SEPTEMBER 23, 1998 **