“My senses overdose on a bike ride on a trail draped in yellows, golds and reds with the sounds and aroma of leaves crunching under my tires.” – Tom Bilcze
For some, trails truly are lifesavers. Just ask Akron resident Tom Bilcze, whose health, habits and life outlook have changed three-fold since discovering Ohio's trail system. Special shout out to Bilcze for sharing his story with us in honor of American Heart Month.
Eight years ago, I found myself in a dire situation—heading home from 17 days of hospitalization after suffering a heart attack and undergoing triple coronary bypass surgery. My cardiologist and primary care physician sounded alarms that I would find myself back in the emergency room if I continued my sedentary habits and did not address my almost 300-pound weight.
In the following years, my health modestly improved. I underwent weight-loss surgery, and exercise became an important part of my daily routine. I also found myself on a bike trail for the first time in my life. That ride was life changing.
I returned numerous times in the following weeks and months. Fellow cyclists told me about other local rail-trails and about TrailLink.com. My free time was eventually consumed cycling these trails. By late 2009, I was exploring rail-trails throughout Ohio with fellow weight-loss surgery patients. We formed a casual trail-cycling bike club, Spin-off Cyclists, to encourage others to live a fun, healthy, active life. Today, the club numbers nearly 500 members.
Cycling has been good to my heart and body. My cardiologist tells me that I have reduced the chance of a cardiac episode reoccurrence from 60 percent to 2 percent. My primary care physician praises me during office visits for my much-improved health. I am a much happier person; I have surrounded myself with active, happy people who love the outdoors.
My bike and rail-trails are key players in my journey to a healthier life. I marvel at the educational, social and health benefits created by multi-use trails, and I advocate for cycling and the development of recreational trails in my community. I have become an avid hiker, runner and snowshoer, and I hope to finish my first half marathon this fall!
American Heart Month is a special time for me. I celebrate being alive and being able to share my story. Today’s story is much more uplifting than the story I would have told in the autumn of 2005. My happiness is the result of maintaining a healthy diet, living an active life, monitoring my health and caring for my overall wellness. You can read more about my personal journey and my thoughts on how to live a healthier life on my blog, Beariatric.com.
Be kind to your heart. Explore your local rail trails. Take a hike. Ride a bike. And better yet, share your time in the outdoors with your friends and family!