Saturday, November 14, 2009

The ride of (and for) her life

Like the lede on this one, but I needed to mention why the hell I did this story in the local paper much earlier.

Published Sept. 8, 2006, in the Keizertimes

On the first day, it was just her and the desert. And, like another first day, it was horrifying.

Megan Timothy had a "brain explosion" on Sept. 3, 2003.

"The doctor gave me his name for it, but I told him when it happens to him, we'll see if he calls it anything other than an explosion," quipped Timothy.

In medical terms, it's called arterio-venous malformation, a long way of saying the arteries in her brain did not form correctly and burst under pressure. The defect had likely been present since birth.

Timothy once made a living as a wordsmith but, when she awoke that morning, there was only one left. Chicken.

"People would ask me my name and it would come out ‘Chicken Chicken,'" she said.

It sounded twice as odd when paired with the expletives that sometimes followed. Thrice as odd, because Timothy is a vegetarian.

While talking and reading presented seemingly insurmountable challenges, Timothy's brain was still processing all the information she could take in.

"I called it being in solitary confinement," she said.

Timothy spent several weeks recovering from the shock and it took another year for her brain to hold up under the stress of surgery to help correct the problem. With no family, she became a ward of the state and was confined to a hospital after her already-dwindling finances evaporated.

It took another whole year to regain her ability to speak.

She learned to read by listening to Harry Potter audiobooks and reading along, sentence by sentence. Reading is still problematic. She reads at the level of a first-grader; five words take almost 30 seconds, and only two have more than one syllable.

Now a published author, she dictated her first book to a friend. "Let Me Die Laughing!" was published Feb. 15, but Timothy was already planning her next.

At the age of 56, the Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) native was an avid cyclist. She had pedaled 10,000 miles across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

It was time to get reacquainted with her bike.

"I went to the doctor and asked whether it would be possible for me to ride again. My friend told him to say ‘no' because I didn't plan on going just around the corner," Timothy said.

He said "yes" and 13 days after the publication of her first book she set out from Hemet, Calif., on a coast-to-coast trek that was nearing its end last week when she rode into Keizer.

"I wanted to prove that people with a half a brain and one good eye could recover from the damage of a traumatic brain injury," she said.

She travels light. Everything she needs is on the bike that has carried her about 10,000 miles. Along the way she's had book signings, camped on the lawns of fire stations, sought shelter from storms in city parks and even tried her first MRE (meal ready to eat) with a family of Hurricane Katrina victims that invited her into their rented home.

Looking back on her journey, she says the first day was the most frightening – when it was just her and the desert.

"The desert was so empty as the sun came up over the horizon. It felt empty; like I did that first day when I woke up and my brain exploded. But, I told myself to look harder, and then I started to see the life all around me it," she said. "Biking through Oregon, everything is so green and lush and vibrant and that's how I feel now that I've done this."

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