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Blind Cyclist Keeps Pedaling, Thanks to Tandem Bike

From Pioneer Planet
By Tim Nelson, July 20, 2000

Ron Burzese biked from Los Angeles to Boston this spring, but he didn't see very much along the way. Burzeze, of Minneapolis, is almost completely blind. He rode all 3,390 miles of the trip on the back of a Cannondale tandem, piloted by Mike Beadles, a Twin Cities Bicycling Club and tandem stalwart. It was a feat by any measure, but even more so for Burzese, who thought his cycling days were over as he lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disorder.

Burzese, 32, rose to what he calls cycling's ``ultimate challenge.'' It's a journey of a lot more than miles, as Burzese tells it.

As a kid growing up in Pennsylvania and Florida, he'd been able to see well enough to play Wiffle ball and learn to ride a bike: normal kid stuff. But his vision deteriorated as he grew older. By the time he got a 10-speed in seventh grade, he had had to adapt, and he rode around with other cyclists.

``I had to have other riders tell me when to turn,'' Burzese says, ``because I couldn't read the street signs. At the rest stops, I used to follow other riders to the restroom or to the snack shelf in the store.''

Even with his tunnel vision -- and a few spills here and there -- he managed to pedal thousands of miles a year. ``It was my escape from reality,'' he remembers, ``and not being able to see a chalkboard.''

By 1995, after he'd graduated from college and started looking for a career, Burzese says he started to realize he was more blind than sighted. He went to a training program to learn how to use a white cane and get around without seeing; he wore a blindfold 40 hours a week to sharpen his skills.

That didn't keep him off his bike. He still took his Giordana road bike out for an occasional spin, although it was a challenge. ``I wished I had my white cane along, so I could find the side of the road,'' he says.

At one point, he sold his bike ``while it and I were still in one piece.''

But he found cycling a hard habit to break. After he moved to Minneapolis in 1996 and got a job at Blind Inc., a training center for the visually impaired, the road still called to Burzese. He occasionally went out for a ride on a rented recumbent. ``I was still working through that process of accepting my blindness,'' Burzese says.

Eventually, he discovered a way he to keep riding: a tandem. The bicycle for two kept him on the road. Tandems eventually led him to Beadles, who pitched the cross country trip to him last year. They finished, in 32 days, on May 26.

Now Burzese has the bug. He has raised some money and hopes to buy a pair of tandems for Blind Inc., where he trains people how to get around on their own. Bikes, he thinks, might be a great supplement to white canes.

``Cycling is such a social thing; it's a great way to get out and meet people,'' he says, ``no matter who you are.''

Tim Nelson can be reached at tnelson@pioneerpress.com or (651) 228-5489.


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Date last modified 7/22/2000