Heart attack spoils MU professors' plans for French bike race

Saturday, June 4, 2011 | 7:11 p.m. CDT; updated 11:36 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011
Rod Geisert, director of animal sciences at MU, cycles on one of his training runs. Geisert has been training for the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race with Dale Brigham, an MU professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, but Brigham suffered a heart attack in a recent qualifying event.

COLUMBIA — Dale Brigham had fewer than 100 miles left before he would qualify for his fourth Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. Instead of finishing, though, he woke up in a hospital.

“I had never spent a night in a hospital since I was born,” Brigham said. “I stayed two nights there.” 


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Brigham, 55, suffered a heart attack last Sunday in Kansas, after riding 270 miles in a 600-kilometer qualifier for the PBP race.

Paris-Brest-Paris is a 1,200-kilometer bike race with a 90-hour time limit that is held every four years.

In 2007, Brigham, a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at MU, convinced Rod Geisert, 57, director of animal sciences at MU, to compete in the PBP with him. Now, Geisert must decide whether he wants to compete without Brigham.

There are four qualifying events for the PBP, and Brigham and Geisert have done them all together, as well as training weekly.

When Geisert and Brigham start a brevet, a long-distance bicycle ride, they plan on crossing the finish line together. They rely on each other to help them through the long rides.

“You go through those times when you feel like you just can’t do it,” Geisert said. “If you wait, and you have a friend to go through it with you, you can do it. It is amazing how your mind and body can heal so quickly.”

Geisert learned this last July in Colorado during a 1,000-kilometer race, his second.

“The second day, it was over 100 degrees and the wind was against us,” Geisert said. “I fell apart because I got hot, and I couldn’t seem to get my temperature down. Basically, Dale kept waiting for me. He could have rode on without me, but he kept waiting for me to catch up. Then, I almost collapsed, but I made it through it. If he hadn’t waited, I probably would have quit. He waited for me, and finally a rainstorm came on. It was the best rain I had ever been in in my entire life."

Geisert said he is still hesitant to ride the PBP without Brigham by his side, and he has a little less than two months of training without him.

“For five years I have ridden with him,” Geisert said. “That is kind of your team. You tell me how you feel when your best friend isn’t around you anymore. It is not like you can’t have other best friends, but it just isn’t the same.”

Brigham had been ignoring signs of a heart attack for weeks.

“I was having some discomfort — it is almost hard to call it pain — in my chest whenever I would start biking, including just riding a bike to work,” Brigham said. “I have to go uphill when I leave my house. A couple of blocks after I would get over that first hill, I would feel some tightness in my chest. I would think it was something left over from a cold, some exercise-induced asthma or maybe it is some heartburn.”

After being airlifted to the hospital, Brigham underwent cardiac catheterization surgery because 95 percent of his left anterior descending artery was clogged.

Doctors have yet to determine the extent of his heart attack, but for now, no biking is allowed.

“In my mind right now, I am trying to say to myself, ‘You may never be able to do another brevet again,’” Brigham said. “Have I realistically integrated that in my real view? Well, I don’t know. I may still be a little bit in denial.”

As of now, the two friends are still planning to go to Paris in August. For the first time in 12 years, Brigham won’t be competing.

“I won’t be with him on every kilometer of the road,” Brigham said. “I know it will be bittersweet. I wanted to get another one under my belt, but I am lucky to have three.”

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Gregg Bush June 5, 2011 | 10:18 a.m.

Godspeed on a full recovery, Dr. Brigham.
You've written a touching story, Ms. Goodman. Well done.

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