Cancer survivor has bicycled 132,000 miles
To say that Randolph Westphal is an avid cyclist is grossly inadequate.
He’s biked the equivalent of going around the world five times, raising awareness, not money, for cancer. He’s also had 28 cancer surgeries himself, for malignant melanoma.
“I have 132,000 miles behind me,” he said Monday afternoon in the Holiday Inn front lobby.
Westphal, who is from Germany, spent Monday and Tuesday in Detroit Lakes, though only one of those nights by choice.
Monday he stopped with intentions of heading to Fargo the next day but his car had other ideas and needed repairs, which he said Webber Ford donated. He stayed an extra night before heading on his way Wednesday morning.
Westphal’s journey began when he was first diagnosed with cancer in 1987, and doctors told him he had six months to a year to live. Baffled, and depressed, by why he would get cancer since he didn’t drink or smoke and took care of his body, he decided “cancer is from a lot of negative stress,” he said. “I decided I’m going to do what I like to do and maybe I can survive this.”
After he was diagnosed with cancer, he said he couldn’t find work because no one would hire him, thinking he would soon die. So, he decided it was an opportunity to “show people never give up.” He’s been biking ever since.
Though he started his journey just to prove he could, he now stops and talks to anyone and everyone, sharing his story and trying to shine as a positive image when some become grim in the face of cancer.
He lives on $10 a day from donations and stays in complementary hotels.
“I am a lone rider. I raise awareness, not money,” he said.
During his miles on the road, he’s encountered plenty of good and bad. He has seen the countryside – Utah and Alaska are his favorites, he said – and he’s on his way to South Dakota.
“My next direction is Mount Rushmore and then Yellowstone (National Park).”
As for the bad, in 1996, while riding in Argentina, a car hit and killed his dog and rolled over Westphal, nearly severing his leg. The car never stopped and he was left in the ditch to die.
After that encounter, he was in the hospital for five years. He lost his memory, his ability to speak, his ability to walk and his ability to smell.
Though he has relearned everything, he said the memories didn’t just come back overnight. Now, as he continues his travels, he said the memories start to come back to him when he visits a place he had already visited in the past.
Years later, biking in Alaska, he collapsed alongside the road due to an infection, and it took two hours before a car finally pulled over to assist him. He said they called an ambulance and he was taken to Prince George, where he was hospitalized for one month. Doctors told him if he had lain there two more hours, he would be dead because the infection had already started to spread.
Despite the cancer and the horrific road encounters, he remains optimistic.
“Everyone has to find the power in themselves,” he said of beating the depression that can follow cancer.
He said he has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for his travels, and “I’m the only one in the world, believe me” who has biked this much with his dogs.
After his last encounter with death alongside the road, the doctors told him he shouldn’t be biking with so much luggage because his body just couldn’t take the stress much more. So he started traveling by car, bringing his bike along to still ride throughout the towns where he stops. This way he can cover more ground, too.
Though he may travel a little differently now, he continues to spread his message of hope and positive attitude. He speaks to organizations and service clubs whenever he can, not to mention the average Joe that will stop and listen.
“I like to be an example for other people,” he said. “I’m not sick, I just have cancer. I like to live.”
For more on Westpahl, visit his website at randolph-westpahl.de.
Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.