Need some motivation to get outside? Just look to Larry Buck.
BY JILL HINDLE KIEDAISCH
Some people get outside for fun. Others do it out of necessity. And by necessity, I mean you can’t think straight, you get irritable, you feel the pressure of inactivity building up in your chest until you lose your cool completely and either yell or start crying.
I speak from experience. I feel a special kinship with people who show flickers of this always-burning furnace in their movements and deeds, with people who say crazy things like “What blizzard?” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” and “Get out there! Just go!”
This is why, when I first met Larry Buck, I liked him right away. He had just pulled into a coffee shop not far from his home in New Haven, Vt. on his road trike, dirt flecks all over his sunglasses, reflectors Velcroed to his chest and arms, a big grin plastered across his face. He happily ordered his usual from the barista who called him by name and quipped about his high-Lycra fashion sense.
Then he turned to me and said, “Made it! Been here long?” I smiled, embarrassed, because I was the one who’d been late, and I knew he’d taken an extra lap up the road and back in favor of sitting around waiting for me. I apologized, lamely explaining how I’d sent him a last-minute note about the slight time shift. “I’m not very real-time with my communications,” he laughed. “Kinda hard to email from the trike!”
Larry is 62, but years don’t seem to factor into his calculus. I didn’t even think about his age until he told me about the stroke he suffered nearly a decade ago, at age 53. He had taken ill with a severe case of H1N1 Swine Flu, which mushroomed into an out-of-left-field leukemia diagnosis, landing him in a drug-induced coma for days. His wife Jane wasn’t sure he’d come out of it.
When he did, his left side was out of commission and his muscles had atrophied significantly. According to Jane, he looked like a ragdoll. She admitted it was hard to see him in a wheelchair during those first six to eight months at home. “I’m fine!” he’d assure her. “At least I’ve got wheels!” It was clear that Larry would refuse to be an invalid.
“It didn’t feel like a choice though,” Larry explained to me recently. “I didn’t know how to be someone who couldn’t move.”
His track record backs up that statement. He made a career out of physical activity, working long days, mostly outdoors, as a founding partner in the design build firm Conner & Buck, in Bristol. My husband Matt tells a story of being a kid of eight or nine, bumming around the job site where his parents were having their timber frame raised. Larry was the general contractor on the job, in his late twenties then, with jet-black hair, a black mustache.
“He and his crew were young active guys, climbing around way up on these beams, probably 50 feet off the ground or more. They’d drop wood shavings and maple-copters down on me to see if I’d notice.” It’s a formative memory Matt still carries 35 years later, of being a kid among grown-ups who did hard, dangerous work and generally trusted him to be smart enough to stay out the way. “Larry was fun and free-spirited,” he says. “He joked around with me, even though he had plenty of other things to do. He seemed pretty happy just to be out in the fresh air, working. I liked that about him.”
Local legend has it that in those days Larry was a serious competitor on the pond hockey circuit. Friends and family constantly cite his athleticism on skates, bikes, and skis—both Nordic and Alpine. So it was no surprise that, after a month in the ICU and two months in a rehab facility, the first thing Larry did was buy himself a trike. “Admirable, definitely—but no surprise,” agrees Jane. “Sitting still is not his strong suit.”
Within a year, you could have only sold the trike for parts. “I literally rode it into the ground,” says Larry. This is what I mean by the necessity of movement. When it’s hardwired into who you are, you don’t forget, even after a stroke takes much of it away.
In 2013, Larry fortuitously met Anja Wrede at a Tour de Farms ride. Anja and her partner David Black of RAD -Innovations in Cornwall, Vt., build custom recumbent trikes and adaptive bikes for all abilities and disabilities. After assessing Larry’s specific needs, they set him up with an electrically-assisted fat-tire Kettwiesel from Hase Bikes USA. Now he can ride in any season, including winter, when outdoor mobility is especially difficult for those who rely on wheels to get around.
This newfound freedom gave Larry an idea: Why not create a whole fleet of bikes and make them available to anyone who wants to use them? He proposed the idea to his long-time friend Mike Hussey, director of the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton, Vt. Together, they hatched a vision for an adaptive fat-tire trike and bike program, which just launched this past December under the name Adaptive Trike Rikert (ATR).
Having raised $10K for the program’s first fully retrofitted adaptive e-trike last fall, the ATR team is now kicking off a $20,000 campaign to raise funds for a hand-pedal bike to accommodate people with spinal injuries. “We’re trying to take small steps that we can achieve,” says Larry, after taking a few laps around the Field Loop at Rikert. “And those small steps can build into a program that will be recognized. It’s a long road,” he adds. “It takes patience. That’s the hardest part.”
Maybe that’s why Larry is so indomitable—because the hardest part for him is the patience. Meanwhile, he’s busy pedaling his way toward his own personal goal of getting back to 90 percent mobility. Every day, with each ride, he is literally rewiring trillions of neural pathways, teaching his brain to heal itself. It’s that same drive that served him well as a young timber framer and pond hockey champion, and now, as a role model for others struggling with disabilities. Scratch that: He’s a role model for everyone.
The other day, Larry and I were emailing about weekend plans. “Get your skis waxed and bring the family up to Rikert for a holiday ski and snowball fight!” he wrote. “Winter isn’t winter without a Calvin and Hobbes snowball fight.”
Sold. We’ll be there. Our challenge, of course, will be keeping up with him.
For more about Adaptive Trike Rikert or to make a donation, visit the program’s GoFundMe page: gofundme.com/adaptive-trike-rikert.
Featured Photo Caption: Larry Buck, ready to rip at Rikert on his custom Vermont-built fat trike. Photo by Angelo Lynn