Pittsburgh’s bicycling community is in shock after Dirty Dozen founder and local cycling legend Danny Chew suffered a fall from his bike that could leave him paralyzed from the waist down.
Chew’s nephew, Stephen Perezluha, said the family is still awaiting further information from doctors about whether Chew will ever be able to walk again.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Chew broke two vertebrae in his neck after suffering from a “dizzy spell” and losing control of his bike during a training ride near Lodi, Ohio.
“It’s pretty hard to take it all in about Danny. It’s really sad,” said Stephen Cummings, 11-time winner of the Dirty Dozen race, which challenges cyclists to tackle the 13 steepest hills in and around Pittsburgh. “(Bicycling) is his one thing, the one thing he really truly loves and it may be taken away from him.”
Cummings described Chew as focused, driven and “a little bit eccentric.”
The 54-year-old lives with his mother in Squirrel Hill and does not work a traditional job. He spends all of his time on bicycling-related activities, such as organizing the Dirty Dozen and pursuing his goal of riding 1 million miles in his lifetime.
In a 2013 interview, Chew described keeping track of his mileage as well as weather and road conditions for each ride in a journal. He said he had been keeping paper records on every ride he had taken since 1978.
“At one point I was doing almost 30,000 miles a year, 15-20 years ago, but now I’ve dropped to 20,000 miles a year,” he said. “That still gets me there, surely but slowly.”
Chew said he rode his first double century – 200 miles – when he was 10 years old. It took him nearly 24 hours to complete, but after that he was hooked on the sport. Chew competed in the Race Across America eight times, from 1994 to 2001, never finishing below fourth place. In 1993, Outside Magazine ranked the cross-country trek as the “the world’s toughest race.”
“I won it twice, in 1999 and 1996, with a time of eight days, seven hours to go all the way across the country,” he said. “Basically I was pedaling 350 miles a day on three hours of sleep a night.”
An online fundraiser to help pay for Chew’s medical expenses had raised more than $30,000 as of press time.
“That’s totally overwhelming, just to know all these people care,” Perezluha said. “I’m assuming most of them look up to Danny or ride bikes themselves … Each one of us who rides a bike could go out and have an accident like that happen to us.”
Perezluha said it was his uncle who first got him interested in cycling when he was 16 years old.
“I used to think doing a 50 mile ride was long and hard and then he got me pushing past all my goals and limits, riding 100 miles, 200 miles, 24 hours,” he said.
Cumming said Chew had the unique ability to inspire cyclists to push themselves further and achieve more than they ever thought possible.
“That’s a huge thing to give somebody, the confidence … just knowing that people can break their own barriers,” he said. “He’s definitely done that for a lot of people so it’s great to see them giving back.”
As for the million miles, Chew’s friend Cassie Schumacher, who was with him during the crash, told the PG that Chew said he would finish on a hand cycle if that’s what it took.
“I wouldn’t count him out,” Cummings said. “If I had to pick one person to overcome a physical challenge or adversity, he could do it. He’s one of the most talented and driven people I’ve ever met.”
Registration for this year’s Dirty Dozen is currently open. It will take place on Saturday, Nov. 26.