Cycling key to recovery for Gunnison’s Albershardt
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Kate Gienapp

When Andy Albershardt thinks about his day-to-day, he often breaks it down into stages. While that might just be the road cyclist in him, it’s a way of living that lends itself to the ups and downs encountered both on the road and in his personal life.

“Everything to me is related to bike racing — including how to deal with this cancer,” explained Albershardt, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor this past March.

A seasoned athlete, Albershardt has competed in more than 500 races of all sorts, including stage, road, time trial, criterium, cyclocross and triathlon. He also served on the Olympic Development Team and is a USA Cycling-certified Level 2 coach.

The diagnosis, as with most cancer cases, came as quite the shock. However, the tumor had taken its toll on his daily routine in unexpected ways prior to detection.

For starters, the certification exams required as an insurance agent became a lot harder, he said.

“What would normally take a half hour was taking several hours, and I was stumbling through things that were easy to achieve, something I’ve been doing for 30 to 40 years,” added Albershardt.

Remembering vocabulary, reading and writing all felt impossible — and it wasn't until he found himself unable to finish reading an article aloud that he finally visited a doctor who gave him the news.

“When I found out, it was like, ‘Oh crap, now what?” remembered Albershardt. “I didn't dwell on the future except for what’s next on this symptom.”

Just like his long cycling treks, he began mapping out the best course of action. Albershardt’s experience racing came flooding back — and with it, all the lessons learned over the years. Paramount in Albershardt’s endurance was his perspective.

“When you’re into it, you break it down to days, and then you break it down to miles — if you have to, you break it down to corners,” explained Albershardt.

As a result, Albershardt sees a similar approach to healing that he does in cycling — at least when it comes to the various stages involved for both.

“When you’re in great condition, you might be thinking about the whole enchilada,” laughed Albershardt. “But when your suffering, you’re maybe down to the next bite.”

Since his diagnosis, he has identified what he considers to be different stages in development. The first stage following diagnosis — what Albershardt calls “discovery” — then transitioned to a “limbo” stage, followed by a long stint in the hospital called the “Denver stage.”

Albershardt is now facing what he sees as stage seven — or the “long brevet,” referring to the coming year-long chemotherapy treatment.

The french term “brevet” doesn't have a direct translation to English, but the best equivalent is something like a certification. For example, a cyclist will earn a brevet after completion of a certain stage in a race.

Earn enough brevets, and you might even earn the right to call yourself a “randonneur," or someone who makes long journeys either on foot or by bike.

Since he began radiation and chemotherapy earlier this year, the treatment has shown positive results and his tumor appears to be shrinking.

The support from the community also has kept both him and his wife Andrea in good spirits as they navigate unknown territory.

“Andy talked a lot about it with people and let people in,” explained Andrea. “The energy we got back has been amazing and wonderful.”

The positive vibes from friends and family across the globe are contagious, said Andrea.

“It’s the idea of being grateful rather than waking up dreading everything,” she added.

For instance, every aspect of recovery can be looked upon in a positive light.

“We get to learn how to eat differently which is hard to learn but fun because it’s going to make us even healthier,” said Andrea.

While cycling has served as his saving grace, Albershardt stumbled upon his passion quite by accident.

While living in Gunnison and attending Western Colorado University in the ’70s, Albershardt was on the hunt for a pair of dryland skis to stay in shape for the coming season.

“They were back-ordered at the Tune Up, and it was like six months, so I decided to get a bike,” recalled Albershardt. “One thing led to another.”

He was hooked, and road cycling and racing soon evolved into something more. According to Albershardt, today cycling is one of the few activities in which he doesn't feel what’s known as the “chemo fog,” or a hazy feeling that comes with the treatment.

And the feeling of freedom while cycling is inescapable: The open road, sights, smells and mountainous surroundings each provide a new source of healing.

“It’s grueling and long and adventurous,” smiled Albershardt. “You learn so much about yourself and how to overcome these challenges.”

 

(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com.)