Randy Headrick, 66, is all about the long haul — whether that means bicycling 100 miles in one day or battling rheumatoid arthritis for over 36 years. Here Headrick, a resident of Rossville, Georgia, talks to HealthCentral about the motocross accident that marked the beginning of his life with RA, the bike rides that have kept his legs and spirits strong, and the work ethic that drives him forward no matter what.
HealthCental: Randy, what do you do for a living?
Randy Headrick: I sell insurance to churches. Today marks my 23rd year in the business. I also drive buses. I mostly do tours with Diamond Tours and a lot of the tour-bus companies. I go to Niagara Falls all the time, Washington, DC. I’ve done South Dakota. I worked the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. I’ve been in every state.
HC: When did you first know you had rheumatoid arthritis?
Randy: I raced motocross, back when I was younger. I was just riding around when I had an accident, in 1985, and broke my left leg. It was a really bad break; they had to put pins and plates in. Almost exactly a year later, I had the prosthesis out. The doctor told me that I was probably going to have a stiff leg and walk like Chester Goode. You don’t even know Chester Goode, but he was a cowboy character on Gunsmoke.
Anyway, about 90 days after I had the prosthesis removed, I couldn’t raise my arms. I couldn’t put my leg in the car. I thought, “Well, I got something bad going on.” So I went to my primary care physician and he gave me some exercises to do. A friend of mine said, “You better go get your sed (erythrocyte sedimentation) rate check for arthritis.”
I said, “Nobody in my family has ever had arthritis,” and she said, “I’m just telling you, sometimes an accident can bring on arthritis.” Anyway, I went and the rheumatologist — this was 36 or 37 years ago — did the sed rate and the X-rays. And I did have arthritis.
HC: I understand you started long-distance cycling right around then.
Randy: That’s right. I’d ride 100 or 125 miles a week. I was still out of work on disability. But I made my mind up: I didn’t want to have a stiff leg, nor did I want to walk with a limp. I went to the local bike shop and bought me an $800 bicycle and I started riding. Since then I’ve ridden seven centuries, which is 100 miles in only one day. I could do it in about eight hours and 15 minutes or so.
So that was really how I got my leg back. I do not walk with a limp. I have a lot of trouble out of my hands, my wrists, and my shoulders, but my knees — both of them — have really been good.
HC: You seem like an incredibly determined person.
Randy: I do anything I want to do and I always have. At some point, I stopped riding all of the centuries and everything. But when I was getting close to turning 50, I called my brother, who is 10 years older than me, and said, “I think I’m going to ride another century on my 50th birthday. Are you interested?”
He said, “You know what? I might want to do that with you.” And we did — we rode 100 miles on my 50th birthday.
I was going to do it again on my 60th. But my baby girl is 42 and she cried and begged. She said, “Dad, please don’t. Everybody is driving and texting.” And she talked me out of it. She was probably right, you know?
HC: So do you still bike?
Randy: I usually ride once a week. I’ve got all the clip-in pedals and the riding jerseys and riding pants. Funny story: I told you about the $800 bicycle? When I got into the insurance business, I traded up and wanted to get rid of the old bike. I asked my agency owner, Morgan, “You want a good deal on a bicycle?” He said, “Whaddya got?” I told him and he said, “What do you want for it?” I said, “I’ll take $200.” This was 18 years ago probably.
So I was back in the warehouse the other day looking for something. I said, “Morgan, what are you ever going to do with my old bicycle back there?” He said, “You want to buy it?” I said, “Yeah, I may. What will you take for it?” He said, “$30.” So I just got my original bicycle back.
I just rode a couple weeks ago. I love two wheels. I’d love to have a motorcycle if my wife let me, but at 66, I need to leave motorcycles alone.
HC: You drive a tour bus for hours at a stretch. Is that hard to do with RA?
Randy: I do better driving than anything (else). I wear support stockings. That makes all the difference when you’re sitting. My wife and I are flying to Hawaii for our 50th wedding anniversary and I was telling my daughter — she’s going with us — I said, “You girls better get you some support stockings.”
So I’ve been driving for a long, long time, probably 16 years. But I don’t have to drive. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody or be a hero. But I know that if I quit, I’ll probably die.
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Pamela Kaufman, a writer and editor in New York City, got her professional start covering health and fitness for Vogue. Learn more about her life as an adventurous eater and mom to two feisty young boys by following her on Instagram @pamkaufman.