Doctors told Dan Zimmerman that he would never walk or talk again after suffering a major stroke eight years ago at the age of 41.
Zimmerman proved them wrong.
Although his gait is unsteady at times and his speech hesitant as he searches for a word, he realizes that recovery is a life-long process.
“I am now able to do many things that were previously considered unattainable,” Zimmerman blogged.
Topping the list is undertaking an ambitious project to pedal a recumbent trike 5,200 miles diagonally across country this coming summer. His journey will start June 30 at the San Juan Islands in Washington and end Nov. 29 at Key West, Fla.
Zimmerman owned and operated Woodworks by Dan Inc. on Colony Drive for 20 years until his stroke. His cabinet and furniture-making business had eight employees and more than $540,000 in annual sales.
It took eight weeks before he could hobble with a walker after the stroke. For six months he visited job sites in a wheelchair and pointed to communicate as his business wrapped up projects.
A year passed before he could barely talk, and three years before he could spell simple words.
The father of two sons, his main source of income is rent from his woodworking building.
He is recruiting bike riders to accompany him on the entire journey or six segments of the trip that he is calling “Spokes Fighting Strokes, Inc.”
Interested donors can pledge for miles ridden to benefit the National Stroke Association or Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia (HHT) Foundation or donate directly to the charities. Corporate sponsors can assist with trip expenses.
HHT is a disease where the lungs fail to filter clots efficiently. HHT killed his older brother, Kevin, at the age of 19; his mother; and is present in Dan and his younger son, Zack, 12. He also has a 17-year-old son, Josh.
He began riding a recumbent trike in 2009, logging 500 to 600 miles monthly. The exercise improves blood flow to all areas of his body, especially the brain, he said.
“I ride four years; talking better. I get out of house. I drive but no way to experience life,” he said.
“I continue to demonstrate on a daily basis that I am willing to do the work necessary to improve my life and share hope with others.”
Zimmerman started planning his cross-country trip nine months ago. Last year he rode 6,292 miles mostly on five one-week long trips in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan. He lost 57 pounds in preparation for the rides.
Many individuals ride bicycles across the United States, but Zimmerman said few make the trip on a trike.
Crossing the Continental Divide will be a challenge because of the elevation gains.
The trip breaks down to Northern Tier, Lewis & Clark regions, Great Rivers South, Underground Railroad, Southern Tier and Atlantic Coast.
The Adventure Cycling Association mapped out the route.
He plans to raise awareness about recovery from strokes and offer hope of stroke survivors through television, radio and newspaper interviews.
Experiencing a debilitating stroke altered Zimmerman’s outlook on life.
“I lost my business, house. Now glad a stroke happened,” said Zimmerman.
“Teach me patience, humility and smell the roses. Life is more important than boats and money.”
He is in a relationship with Sandy Puerner, a medical technician who drew blood from him on his hospital visits. Seven years later they began dating.
She will accompany him in a RV support vehicle twice during the ride. He will turn 50 years old on the trip.
“Life goes on,” he observed.