Tour of the Litchfield Hills: Why We Ride

Tour of the Litchfield Hills: Why We Ride

In less than 24 hours, Team Sixcycle-RK&O will lead the start of the 2013 Tour of the Litchfield Hills. We’ve written in the past about this terrific charity event and after raising more than $7,000 last year the team, joined in its fundraising efforts by family and close friends, stands close to passing that mark for 2013. As we enter the home stretch on this fundraising effort, one of the local newspapers interviewed Team Sixcycle-RK&O’s Charlie Bird and published a story that helps explain why we work so hard to support the Tour of the Litchfield Hills.

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Cyclist Bird returning to roots for good cause

BY MARK JAFFEE REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Two dates are lodged in Charlie Bird’s memory. The former is bad, the latter as good as it gets.

The bad day came on June 25, 2001. The good day on Aug. 9, 2002.

Just two months before Bird’s senior year at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, the Sharon native and then 17-year-old was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with a 91/2-inch mass across his chest.

The soccer goalkeeper and ice hockey winger had admittedly ignored his symptoms for far too long.

“I had noticed my endurance was going down, and I was fatigued easily and my appetite had gone away,” recalled Bird, now 29. “I had been coughing a lot, but I figured it was something in the air or something causing it at the ice rink. I thought it was a bronchial infection or something like that.

“I was an athlete, so I played the tough guy role,” said Bird.

That all changed one day.

“I was sitting in the dining hall one day (June 25, 2001) when I had a strange episode,” said Bird. “My face and my fingers went numb. I had to sit down.”

Bird was off to Sharon Hospital, where a chest X-ray showed the problem.

“My rib cage was white; it was supposed to show bones and be black,” explained Bird. “My lung was completely collapsed. I had fluid around the heart. They found lymph nodes and that set off alarms in my head.”

Bird thought of his cousin, not a blood relative, who also had the same disease.

When the diagnosis was made, he started chemotherapy immediately. Treatment continued every other Monday through December to go along with a multiple of cycles of radiation from December 2001 to January 2002.

Bird adjusted rather well, he said, because of his athletic mindset.

“My athlete’s body was used to handling stress,” said Bird. “Being a patient was easy for me. When I needed treatment, I would sit down and do what the doctors said. I would go home and was able to live my life. I was very lucky. I tolerated the chemotherapy. It never made me sick.”

In April 2002, Bird had a recurrence of the disease and underwent high dosage of chemotherapy treatments through the following August. On Aug. 2, he underwent an autologous bone-marrow stem-cell transplant, a transfusion of his own cells, performed Dr. Dennis L. Cooper at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“We probably talked about the disease maybe once or twice and talked about sports or whatever else every other time,” said Bird. “He’s amazing.”

Exactly a week later, on Aug. 9, 2002, Bird was given a clean bill of health.

“I walked out of Yale for the last time,” he said. “That was a day I won’t forget.”

After graduating from Hotchkiss in 2002, Bird was accepted at Boston University, where he joined the soccer team with hopes of rekindling his athletic career. But he still knew he wasn’t 100 percent his old self.

“I was bald, had no eyebrows, my face was swollen and I could barely run a lap around the track,” he said. “Every ache, pain or bump, I thought I was sick again.”

Bird battled through that anxiety throughout the year. He felt he needed a change of scenery and transferred to the University of Richmond, where he also played soccer.

“I didn’t know anyone and was really out of my comfort zone for the first time in my life,” said Bird. “It turned out to be a really good experience.”

Three years later, he earned a degree in accounting from Richmond and soon moved to New York City, where he began as an accountant for W.P. Carey Inc.

Outside of his job, Bird got the cycling bug. He trains in New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park with his team, known as Team Sixcycle RK&O.

Now, the 29-year-old will return to his roots in Litchfield County next weekend for the 10th annual Tour of the Litchfield Hills. The tour proceeds and donations benefit the Cancer Care of Fund of the Litchfield Hills.

“Last year, we raised $7,000, and we’re hoping for $10,000 this time,” he said. “This is really important to me to support some of the same centers that I was treated at. For me, staying active has always been important and I’ve always tried to push my body to the limit.”

Even more so now as an 11-year cancer survivor.

About Charlie Bird

Charlie raced mountain bikes at a young age. After playing soccer at the University of Richmond he helped start the first UR Cycling team in 2006. He began racing again in NYC in the summer of 2009.