Patrick Bohan, 57, Buena Vista, Colorado
Some senior athletes have to adapt to medical conditions and disabilities to compete, and most will tell you their activity is helping to keep their situation under control. When someone facing extreme challenges performs well enough to earn medals, the accomplishments are even more impressive.
“I should be needing assistance to walk instead of winning races,” cyclist Patrick Bohan says flatly.
Until his late 40s he regularly enjoyed hiking, running, rock climbing and mountaineering, but his life turned upside down when he was diagnosed with two neurological disorders – cramp fasciculation syndrome (CFS) which causes continuous muscle fasciculations (twitching) and cramping, and multifocal motor neuropathy (MMN) which adversely affects peripheral nerves signaling muscles in distal locations.
The result was weakness in limbs and other painful complications that took away his normal activities. “I’ve seen ten neurologists and been misdiagnosed four times. When they do an EMG my results show both myopathy and neuropathy, which confuses the doctors,” he says. “I needed find an exercise that I could do where the pain and recovery are tolerable.”
Cycling offered the solution. People who watched him said he was fast on a bike and could do well racing. For his first races in 2014, he rented a bike and surprised himself by medaling in qualifying events and won a Bronze Medal for the 50-54 10K Time Trials at the National Senior Games in 2015. In 2017, he took Gold in both 5K and 10K trials, and returned in 2019 to win Gold in the 10K. He has also placed in road races. The retired electrical engineer feels humbled by his success. “I didn’t go into this expecting to win, I was more in a survival mode of thinking.”
He had found a pathway, calling cycling “the great equalizer” of endurance sports. “The pedal stroke is more forgiving than others. If your technique is a little off in swimming or track, you lose power and time,” he observes. “You don’t have to be as perfect with your pedal stroke.”
“Through cycling, I have actually built up neural plasticity enabling my muscles and brain to find new ways to work around the damage it is doing to my body,” he continues. “That said, the new pathways are not as efficient.”
Patrick recently authored a book, How a Neurological Disorder Changed My Life for the Better, and is donating profits to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. The title reveals how he sees his experience as a blessing.
“If I want to think of this as a disadvantage, then it will be. But I look at the benefits of the disorder, which sounds strange,” he explains. “If you can learn to live and adapt to those adverse conditions, it really builds your grit and mental toughness. And that’s an aspect that many people don’t consider how to train for. I always fight every day because I don’t have good days now. You can have all the athletic genes in the world, but you also need the drive to succeed. Training will beat talent any day.”
His advice to others facing setbacks? “Do not give up, and if need be, try to evolve. And when people ask how to get better, my answer is to do something every day that takes you out of your comfort zone.”
“I’m grateful for cycling. The other things were taken away from me,” he concludes. “Without this, I would be a very lost individual. It’s giving me hope that I can fight. As long as I can keep moving with cycling, I’m pretty sure I can keep going for a long time.”