Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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50 Miles, 50 Days, 50 Causes a Big Success

By Duwayne Escobedo

For her 50th birthday, Diane Lea wanted to do something special to celebrate, something memorable.

Her decision? Ride a bike 50 miles a day for 50 days and highlight 50 causes, a different one each day. She hoped making people aware of each cause might promote action to find treatments or cures. So, she planned to pedal 2,500 miles of back roads from San Diego to Pensacola.

Lea started each day by doing a short video explaining that day’s cause that was posted to her 50 Causes Ride website and Facebook page. She planned to pedal 2,500 miles of back roads from San Diego to Pensacola.

Lea started her “reverse birthday” on June 18 in San Diego, which included scheduled days off, and finished up her mission to give to others with friends and fans at Plaza de Luna at the foot of Palafox Street on Pensacola Bay Saturday, Aug. 20.

“It was a great and amazing feeling,” Lea said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

Her adventure turned out to be rewarding in more ways than one.

“I cried so much because people got to me in wonderful ways,” she said. “I thought about that cause that day and how people do it. They do it all day, every day, for all their lives. I would ride over another big hill and another big hill and another big hill and think it was nothing compared to what a lot of people go through.”

One of those causes that touched Lea was when she pedaled through Austin on Day 30 of her ride for Neurocutaneous Melanosis. It causes moles all over babies’ bodies and in the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. There is little that can be done and the babies usually survive only a few years.

“People would tell me their stories on how that cause affected their lives,” Lea said. “One lady contacted me through Facebook. She had seen our videos and followed our ride. Her grandson had Neurocutaneous Melanosis. She sent pictures that showed tumors all over his face. I just bawled. People needed to get things off their chest and I was safe to share with. I treasure it.”

Lea, who saved up her money and quit her job as a urology medical tech for her journey, said another woman from New Hampshire told her about her two daughters that have Cystinuria, which creates kidney stones and can result in debilitating pain and even kidney damage. There is no cure. The woman, who was an enthusiastic supporter, told Lea that one of her daughters almost missed her wedding day because she was passing a stone.

Two days before she left on her 50 Causes ride, Lea met Ann, a Brewton resident, who suffered from FacioScapuloHumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD). Lea then met Ann’s friend Amy, who lives in San Diego where the trip started out. No treatment exists to slow down or cure the disease but researchers are developing new drugs for FSHD that may become available over the next three to five years.

“I loved that,” Lea said. “They’ve both been very supportive.”

Lea admits she wouldn’t have been able to cycle the country without her friend, Liz Watkins, who drove the 50 Causes RV and made the trip with her. Watkins had many responsibilities, including doing the videos, taking photos and maintaining Facebook. She plans to produce a documentary.

The journey affected Watkins, too.

“I had lost faith in humanity but this restored it,” Watkins said. “People are kind. People do want to do things for you.”

Lea had a similar experience.

“The ride made me feel that people are good,” she said. “The trip has really shown that. They wanted to get involved. All people want to do something good for others.”

The ride wasn’t all tears. In the Arizona desert with the temp registering 105 degrees, Lea and Watkins rescued an abandoned puppy with some Australian Shepard mix. The puppy was walking in circles in the middle of the road and appeared near death. Watkins named the pup, Phoenix.

Today, Lea reported Phoenix is three time her size and weight at 17 pounds, since they found it. “She’s doing great,” Lea said.

Also, Watkins pointed out that the 50 Causes ride got derailed in Louisiana because of recent catastrophic flooding. It killed 13 people and damaged tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

They spent four days holed up in the New Orleans home of William Watkins, who is Liz’s father. Despite the unexpected break, Lea stuck to her daily routine of pedaling 50 miles each day on a stationary bike in Liz’s childhood bedroom.

Besides creating more awareness for the 50 causes Lea chose, the ride also had many effects on her physically. Her legs went dead on the Apache reservation and she couldn’t move them to pedal.

“I don’t want to sound like a whiny baby,” she said. “But my legs went dead. I am 50 years old. Liz asked me if I wanted to quit? No! That was not an option. There was never any question that I wasn’t going to finish.”

Riding 50 miles a day also caused her to lose 15 pounds and her cycling shorts became baggy, which made it hard for her to cycle. Fortunately, a bike shop sent her new shorts that fit.

“I was rolling around on my seat,” she said, laughing now at the memory. “It was extremely painful on the seat.”

Despite all the ups and downs, Lea is already planning to do the 50 Causes ride again next year.

“I have a huge sense of accomplishment,” she said. “They deserve a lot more than I gave them but I gave them something.”

Watkins isn’t surprised Lea plans to do it all again.
“A lot of people don’t care about other people,” Watkins said. “But they all mean something to her.”

Want to Learn More? Visit 50causesride.com or go to 50 Causes Ride Facebook Page.