Kyle Bryant is a man on a mission. He’s living with a rare disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA). Diagnosed at age 17, it causes him to be extremely unsteady on his feet. FA isn’t just about mobility. It causes vision and hearing loss, as well as shortening the lives of those who have it. There is no cure.
In his moving memoir, Bryant tells what it was like to learn he had this disease. At first he and his family just thought he was klutzy. You know, teenagers don’t always have a great sense of their body. But Kyle was an athletic, outdoorsy California kid. He’d grown up doing active things. So this unsteadiness didn’t make sense. What they weren’t prepared for was this stunning, life-changing diagnosis.
The other life changing event in Bryant’s life is his discovery that riding a three-wheel recumbent bicycle (“trike”) works for him. He feels like a regular guy on the trike, and has a chance to enjoy the athleticism that previously eluded him. So he goes all in!
With very little practical experience or planning, Bryant arranges to ride with his dad from California to Memphis. They just decide to do it, wrangle Mom and various companions, and start. Their goal is a yearly FA conference and fundraising for the disease. Plus, of course, Graceland. They also have plans to stop at some FA research facilities along the way. It’s a ballsy move.
I love a good medical memoir. This fits that bill. But it’s also an adventure story, because riding bicycles across the country is nothing short of epic. And Bryant does it twice in the book. Once they complete the first ride, the experience gets under his skin and he wants to keep doing it. Plus, he discovers it’s a great fundraising vehicle.
As he rides, Bryant does a lot of thinking also. The open spaces ahead of him seem to give Bryant the mind space to ponder. So his memoir includes plenty about the mental and emotional process of having a rare disease. Structurally, the philosophical aspects of the disease are mixed in nicely amongst the adventure. They never get overbearing or trite.
Bryant’s journey relates to my life in several ways, so I found it especially meaningful. I live with some life-altering diagnoses, some more rare than others. I can relate to the need to process that, as well as to the desire to make the most of the life you have.
Also, back in 2008, before my medical journey began, I was the massage therapist for a team of cyclists completing Race Across America (RAAM). It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is the second epic event Bryant tells about, although his team rode in 2010. As a former participant, I wished for more about RAAM in this book. Instead, I’ll have to hunt down Bryant’s film documentary about their ride.
Bryant is an inspiring and motivational figure. His story is moving and worth a look, especially if you like adventures and medical journeys.
Many thanks to the author and publisher, Health Communications, Inc. for a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.