Healthy Ride: Bartlett teacher sets off on second Bike the US for MS tour

Robert Beger stands recently with the bicycle he'll use to travel from Maine to Memphis as part of his second trip for Bike the US for MS. He leaves May 24.

Robert Beger stands recently with the bicycle he'll use to travel from Maine to Memphis as part of his second trip for Bike the US for MS. He leaves May 24.

His doctor gave him a decision.

Either get better, he said, or start making arrangements.

That was nearly two years ago. Robert Beger decided he had to make some changes in his life. Today, the 62-year-old is an avid cycler, and he’s about to start his second tour across a portion of the US for the Bike The US for MS fund drive.

The decision didn’t happen overnight. It took the wake-up call from his doctor and a number of failed experiments to improve his health to try the cycling route.

“I spent most of the past 15 years of my life unhealthy,” said the Bartlett High School German teacher.

A couple of minor heart attacks. A minor stroke. Weight problems. Chronic back issues and chronic pain.

The former outdoorsman tried walking and juice diets. But those didn’t work. And then, he decided to try his bicycle.

“All of a sudden, cycling seemed to be doing something,” Beger said from the kitchen of his Autumn Glen Cove home, where he was surrounded by cycling helmets and equipment.

The weight came off. The back improved. And pretty soon, he was making it in small tournaments.

And then a friend of his, a father of students who had helped during his health struggles, suggested he try something more.

That friend had been diagnosed with MS some time before. And Beger was looking for a challenge he could ride for.

Why not ride for the MS cause, his friend suggested.

That’s when Beger started a trek across the United States, following Adventure Cycling routes from Yorktown, Va., to San Francisco. A total of 4,000 miles.

“I loved the experience. My neighbors here asked me if I’d do it again,” Beger said, chuckling. “I said thanks, but I’ve done that one now.”

Indeed, this year’s trip won’t be as long or as adventurous as last year’s. He’ll leave May 24 from Bar Harbor, Maine, and ride until he reaches the Mississippi River in Iowa. There, he’ll cut south along the Great River cycling routes until he arrives home in Bartlett.

The whole trip should take about five weeks, he said. To do it, he hopes to raise $3,300. So far, he’s raised $795.

“I’m way behind,” Beger said. “I think a lot of the people I talked to last year said, well, we know you can do it now. We did that.”

That’s why Beger is looking for new sponsors to help reach his goal.

“People should understand that just because I’ve started doesn’t mean you still can’t donate,” he said. “We do service projects along the way, and give people cards when they see us out there working, and they take those cards and go back and donate to the cause. So, people can donate the entire time.”

For Beger, the adventure has become more than just a personal challenge. He’s had a chance to see his money at work, in some of the MS clinics and in changes to people’s homes who need the help to get through everyday life tasks. That’s something that hits home for Beger, who’s spent most of his life in pain after blowing out a knee as a Bartlett football player in high school.

Now, he deals not only with pain from arthritis, but from slipped discs in his back and degeneration. During last year’s trip -- Beger was the oldest cyclist there -- he hurt his back in Kentucky.

“I had to be helped up on the bike, but once I got up there, and took some muscle relaxers and pain medicine, I was able to ride,” said Beger of his challenge.

Today, the increased exercise, healthy eating habits and prayers have helped ease some of that pain. Beger looks forward to continuing his cycling adventures and helping a cause he loves.

“I feel like I have a new lease on life,” he said.