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(From left) Daniel Alexander, MD; David Cywinski, MD; and Anthony Glosek plan to complete a bike ride for charity that began 25 years ago.

AAOS Now

Published 8/1/2011
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Peter Pollack

The unfinished ride

Friends resume bike trip for charity—25 years later

One morning in 1986, four young men left Buffalo, N.Y., with an impressive goal—an 8,141-mile bicycle trip to raise money and awareness for a boys club that had helped change their lives. Three months later, after a series of setbacks that included a major accident with a pickup truck, just one young man rode his bike back into town, having completed the last 2,500 miles of the journey alone.

“It was pretty grueling mentally,” says Daniel Alexander, MD. “My friends had been hit by a truck and sent home. On top of that, it was the southeast, it was 1986, and there were record-breaking temperatures. But I did it.”

A pivotal moment
The spirit that helped Dr. Alexander complete the ride had been forged in the Babcock section of Buffalo, N.Y., where he grew up. In a town in which young boys grew up to take their fathers’ places in the local factories, there were few options, but the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo gave young minds a fighting chance.

“At that time it was a boys club,” said Dr. Alexander, “and it was a home away from home—a safe haven for poor kids to escape the dysfunction and develop the tools necessary to succeed in life.”

At the club, Dr. Alexander and boyhood friend Dave Cywinski, now also a physician, learned to believe in themselves. They proved it by planning a bike trip across the country at age 16.

“We biked from Buffalo to Denver in 18 days,” recalled Dr. Alexander. “1,800 miles, 100 miles a day. It was a very pivotal moment in our lives, and it really defined who we were as teenagers and as people.”

A few years later, the friends planned a second trip. For this event they set their sights even higher—an 8,000-plus mile bike ride around the perimeter of the United States. And they adopted a goal—raising awareness for the club that had had such an influence on their lives.

Joined by friend Tony Glosek and club executive director Bob Kurtz, they set out on their journey and were initially very successful.

“We raised a ton of awareness,” said Dr. Alexander. “We didn’t raise a lot of money. We were just kids and we didn’t have the tools to do so. But we were on the national news several times, we were on the local news every day, and we received three letters from Ronald Reagan during the trip. It was pretty cool, and we got a lot of attention for the Boys and Girls Clubs.”

But the good times didn’t last. Mr. Kurtz had to return home for family reasons. Dan, Dave, and Tony pressed on. They were more than two-thirds of the way through the trip when disaster struck.

“Just outside of San Antonio—in Seguin, Texas—Dave and Tony were hit by a pickup truck,” said Dr. Alexander. “The truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and hit them from behind while going about 70 miles an hour.

“Tony had a broken jaw, a broken pelvis, a broken femur, a broken tibia, and multiple contusions and lacerations. Dave had a broken ankle. At Guadalupe Regional Medical Center, an orthopaedic surgeon put Tony back together and shipped him back up to Buffalo.”

Different paths
As the years passed, Dr. Alexander and Dr. Cywinski attained their medical degrees, but a series of personal setbacks took Mr. Glosek down a path of drug and alcohol use. Eventually, Dr. Alexander received a phone call from a mutual friend, asking him to help Tony.

“He’d been through rehab, and it wasn’t really working,” said Dr. Alexander, “so I brought him to my house, put him on a fruit and vegetable diet, isolated him from the outside world. I took away his keys, his cell phone, his money, and his credit cards. He lived on my property for 4 months. I had him work out every day, and in 3 months he went from 260 lb to 193 lb. His cholesterol went from 310 to 199. He felt great, and when he left, he was quite athletic.”

After several months of sobriety, Mr. Glosek turned to Dr. Alexander and suggested finishing the ride.

“I said, ‘Tony, you know I’m a busy orthopaedic surgeon. It would be so hard to take that kind of time off.’ And he said, ‘I think we should do it for us.’”

After some discussion, Drs. Alexander and Cywinski and Mr. Glosek finalized plans to fly down to Seguin and pick up where they had left off 25 years ago. As before, they would attempt to raise awareness and money for underprivileged children, but with experience on their side, they opted to aim higher with two concrete goals—a new building for the Seneca Babcock Community Center in their old hometown and financial assistance for the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva, N.Y.

A new center for boys and girls
On July 29, the three friends rode out from Seguin, starting at the same hospital where the boys were taken after the accident. G. Steven White, MD, the same orthopaedic surgeon who attended to them a quarter century ago, was there to see them off. On August 22, if all goes according to plan, they will gather on the steps of the Buffalo city hall with the mayor and business leaders and turn over the funds to build the new community center.

“I’m hoping that orthopaedic surgeons from around the country may be moved to help us with this,” said Dr. Alexander. “If we can convince even a small percentage to donate $1,000 to our cause, it will be a substantial amount of money. And if they can’t give money, if they could help us out with connections in business or with politicians, that would be great. We just received a $100,000 grant from the city of Buffalo, and we’re working with politicians on every level. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve set up a website to explain what we’re doing—biketripforkids.com—and visitors can donate to either the Babcock center or the Geneva center or both.

“I think we as orthopaedic surgeons are in a position to help our communities,” he continued. “Many of my colleagues do that already, but I would like everyone to become involved in their local communities, with a Boys and Girls Club or the local community center. And especially, give poor children from the inner city a fighting chance; a chance to succeed. Our vision is that maybe 20, 25 years from now, there will be more stories of poor kids from Babcock or Geneva who became doctors, lawyers, business owners, fire fighters...productive citizens. It’s good for all of us, and it’s good for our profession—to be charitable in giving.”

Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at ppollack@aaos.org