Cancer-beater CEO pedals through town for support

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— When three-time cancer survivor Patrick Byrne pedaled into Steamboat Springs en route to Massachusetts, he had nothing more than his bike, a small carrying bag and a big heart.

Other bicyclists riding through Steamboat over the weekend were racing across the United States and had support vans following them to offer aid when thundering clouds rolled in or bike tires went flat. Byrne, on the contrary, rode alone through the beating-down heat of the Sierra Nevadas and jumped into an abandoned car on the side of U.S. 40 to escape from lightning before reaching Steamboat. Along the 90-mile leg of the trip into Steamboat on Friday, he also had to deal with four flat tires.

"Someday, when I'm rich, I'm going to have the vans behind me feeding me power shakes ," Byrne, the millionaire CEO of overstock.com, said with a smile. "Actually, one of the reasons I like doing this is the solitude."

On his cross-country bike trip Byrne, who started in San Francisco, enjoys reciting poetry and calculating numbers. Everyday, he memorizes a deck of cards and recites their order while pedaling.

Byrne started his cross-country trek May 29 in San Francisco to raise awareness about the fight against cancer. The man who has had cancer in his lungs and bones expects to reach Sturbridge, Mass., by Aug. 4. In Sturbridge, he will join more than 3,000 Pan-Massachusetts Challenge riders for a two-day, 200-mile fund-raising ride for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass.

"I'm a big believer in giving money back to the system that saved me," Byrne said.

If the Massachusetts race raises its goal of $9 million this year, Bryne has pledged to contribute an additional $1 million to the cause. He rode three previous trips during cancer remissions.

"Nine million dollars is something that's difficult, but doable. Everyone has to stretch," Byrne said. "The dollars donated here are efficient because the government doesn't give money until the end of the drug testing process, but basic scientific research is often funded by general donations."

Besides raising money for a good cause, Byrne's bike ride is a personal stepping stone for him. It is the fourth time that Byrne has biked across the country, but the first time he has done it since beating cancer his last time.

"Since I got done with cancer, I didn't want anything to do with cancer for 10 years," Byrne said. "But when Billy Star called me and asked me to speak to the group of Pan-Mass bicyclists this year I suppose that I felt a little selfish because I've never done anything to communicate with people about cancer."

After battling cancer three different times, Byrne has been cancer-free for more than 10 years and maintains an attitude that he'll go down swinging. Scars on his body after 20 surgeries and a lung that is in the same shape as a man in his 70s are sobering reminders of the devastating disease.

"Bicycling is a low-impact way to build lungs and at the end of this trip, I'm going to do another VO2 test (which measures lung capability) to see if my lungs are any better," Byrne said.

This is the first time that Byrne has biked through Colorado and he was happy to reach Steamboat. He spent the weekend resting here and set off Monday for the remainder of his trip. His next extended stops will be in Denver and Chicago.

"So far, Colorado, has been the most bike-friendly state," Byrne said. "It's really nice getting here because from Steamboat on, it's like civilization again. Through the Sierras, I was on the road some days where no one would pass me the entire day."

Byrne already has raised several thousands of dollars, he said, and he has received more than 200 e-mails from supporters. Anyone wanting to donate to cancer research can visit overstock.com on the Internet and click on the CEO's trip icon to access a map.

"Not that I'd quit anyway, but there's no way that I'd quit with all of this good karma going my way," Byrne said.

To reach Larissa Keever call 871-4223 or e-mail lkeever@amigo.net

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