COAST CITIES — About 115 cyclists hit the streets of North County on Dec. 6 for a 62-mile ride to raise money for a fellow athlete who seems to defy all medical logic.
In early 2004, marathon runner Skip Gleavey unknowingly suffered a massive heart attack his doctors said should have killed him. A month later, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given six years to live.
While some may have given up on life, Gleavey decided to step it up by training for triathlons. But this past Aug. 16, life threw him another curve. At mile 38 of the 100-mile Cool Breeze Century ride in Ventura, he broke his back in an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Gleavey still didn’t give up. He participates in Team in Training events to raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and recently started riding a hand bike after becoming involved with Operation Rebound, which provides sports opportunities for service members who suffered permanent physical injuries in the line of duty.
“I’ve been an athlete all my life,” Gleavey said. “I’m not going to stop that. I didn’t let cancer stop me. I didn’t let a heart attack stop me. I see myself as just another guy doing what anybody else would do under the same circumstances.”
While overcoming the physical and mental challenges doesn’t seem to be a problem, the financial difficulties are another story.
Gleavey has been living in the kitchen of his Clairemont home on a hospital bed because he can’t get upstairs to the bedroom or full bathrooms. His wheelchair doesn’t fit in the shower of his first-floor bathroom. He needs a wheelchair-accessible car and, he said, his loss of employment and his wife, Denise, stepping back from her business to be his caretaker have “created a financial void that we will need to fill somehow.”
Six of his friends organized the Dec. 6 Milestone Challenge to finish the 100-mile ride Gleavey was unable to complete in August. The ride began at 8 a.m. at Solana Beach City Hall and headed north on Coast Highway 101 through Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside.
Cyclists continued through Camp Pendleton and into San Clemente State Park. At mile 31, they turned around and retraced the route back to Solana Beach, where they gathered at Chief’s Burgers and Brew for lunch and a silent auction. The event, which Gleavey and the organizers said may become an annual fundraiser to help others in need, netted about $25,000.
“I can only say that I am totally overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten,” Gleavey said. “I’m so grateful to all the people who offered their time. Many didn’t even know me personally.
“The people in San Diego are so open-hearted and so open-armed,” he said. “It’s totally amazing.”