This article first appeared as the Cyclist of the Month column in the July 2012 issue of the Cascade Courier, our membership newsletter.
Cyclist of the Month: TOM GIBBS
Wheels: 2003 Giant OCR3 road bike
Occupation: Manager, AT&T Mobility Network Reliability Center
If you had told Tom Gibbs six months ago that he would be standing onstage at this year’s Bike Month Awards and Recognition Celebration as the 2012 Group Health Commute Challenge Captain of the Year, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. After all, he’s so new to bike commuting that he doesn’t yet own a set of fenders.
Tom’s story begins several years back – on Valentine’s Day in 2004, to be exact. He was enjoying a celebratory dinner with his wife when he lost motor control of one of his arms. He made an appointment with a chiropractor, thinking he’d a pinched nerve in his back. But his symptoms only got worse. An MRI and spinal tap soon confirmed his fear: Tom had multiple sclerosis.
Grappling his diagnosis, Tom decided to ride the MS 150, a two-day, 150-mile fundraising ride put on by the Multiple Sclerosis Society. “I had no experience with that sort of thing, but I bought a bike, trained and raised a lot of money,” he says.
After the ride, he gave up bicycling for awhile. “The problem with me is I have a ‘been there, done that’ mentality. I proved to myself that I could do it, and my bike collected dust for a few years,” he says.
Then, on the day after Christmas last year, Tom relapsed again. He ended up in the hospital for three days getting steroid injections. “Having that happen instilled in me that I need to be proactive about my health,” he says.
During his annual physical shortly thereafter, his doctor told him that he needed to get more exercise. “I spend 10 hours a day sitting in a chair at work, and I go home to three kids. I don’t have time for the gym. I asked him, ‘When do I exercise?’”
“The doctor suggested that I try biking to work, and everything clicked,” he says. “It was a pivotal moment.”
He set out on a Saturday for a “dry run” of the 13-mile route from his home in Bothell to his office in Redmond. “My commute takes 45 minutes in a car,” he says. “I decided that if I could do it in less than an hour and a half, it’d be worth my time.”
That first time, it took him only an hour and five minutes. “It was a no-brainer,” he says. “It wasn’t taking away from my family or my job.”
He’s had some amazing experiences riding on the Sammamish River Trail. He’s ridden with a snow owl and come upon a cougar at dawn, its eyes shining in his headlight. He also saw a coyote. “That was cooler because I wasn’t scared to death,” he says.
Back in April of this year, with several months of bike commuting under his belt, he got an email from AT&T’s transportation coordinator about Bike Month. “I was seeing the impact of bicycling on the environment, my health and my wallet. I was benefitting on so many levels, and I wanted to impart that to others,” he says.
Being a new rider himself, Tom was well equipped to convince new riders to join his team. Indeed, five of his 10 team members took up bike commuting thanks to encouragement from Tom.
How did he motivate them? “It’s the little things that count,” Tom says. He greased chains, met teammates on the trail before work, special-ordered donuts with bikes on them from Frost Donuts in Mill Creek and sent weekly emails. “I congratulated people if I noticed that their mileage was going up, especially if they were new to riding,” he says.
He’s hoping to pass his love of bicycling on to his kids, too. “I hope seeing me come home from work on a bike helps them realize that driving isn’t their only option. We can go to Gasworks Park for a picnic in the time it takes to drive, and biking together creates more of a bond than being in a car.”
So, what’s next?
“I have this harebrained idea,” he says. He and some friends are gearing up to ride the MS 150 again this year. “We formed a team called the Mutineers and ordered custom jerseys from Ascend Sportswear. We’re going to ride in support of great causes, and we’re going to ‘mutiny’ whatever they’re supporting.”
“I feel selfish when I ride the MS 150. Everybody has a cause, and I’m going to get behind others’ causes,” he says.
After all, he tells me, “Riding is hard sometimes. Everybody needs a pull.”
If you’d like to know more about Tom and the MS 150, he would welcome your visit to his personal page at www.nationalMSsociety.org/goto/TomGibbs.