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November 28, 2009
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The three-wheeling life

CARBONDALE, Colorado - Greg Chandler is becoming a distinctive sight around Carbondale lately, since taking delivery of a bright yellow tricycle that he uses to get around town.

And he's hoping that his health stays good enough to permit him to take that trike, formally known as a Sidewinder Cycle, out on the road next spring around western Colorado and eastern Utah.

"I figure I owe something," said Chandler, 57.

"I want to do something for the world in my time," he declared.

This is someone who is dealing with a variety of ailments, including Parkinson's disease, spinal degenerative disorders and manic depressive syndrome. He is living on disability and taking things one day at a time.

In one way, Chandler's life has come full circle, in that he is living in Carbondale, Colorado, after having been born in Carbondale, Kansas, about 14 miles from Topeka.

But different parts of Colorado have been his home ever since his family moved to Colorado Springs in the early 1970s, where he finished high school.

Not that he ever stayed in one place for long.

After high school, he was forced to choose between a music scholarship in the Eastern U.S. (he played saxophone) and art/theater school in Banff, the Canadian ski town - he chose Banff.

But after a few years there, he decided to go "make my mark" in the arts scene of New York City.

He got as far as Michigan before realizing he really didn't want to live in New York, and hustled back to Colorado Springs for a while. He next moved to the small Western Slope town of New Castle to take a job making leather garments for a couple of years.

Banging around the Roaring Fork Valley region for the next couple of decades, he became a respected pastry chef - at one time baking a cake for the Hotel Colorado's 100th birthday party that looked just like the hotel itself and was about the size of a living room chair.

He called that "the highlight of my baking career."

His most recent job, though, was doing computer graphics for the Crystal Glass Studios in Carbondale, which is where he was when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1991.

Parkinson's is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs an individual's motor skills, speech, and other functions.

Chandler had already been having trouble physically, after a particularly grueling stint as pastry chef for the Hotel Jerome left him unable to lift his arms to clock out one New Year's Eve.

But his malady was misdiagnosed as "permanent strain in my neck vertebrae," and it wasn't until his symptoms continued to worsen that he went in for the battery of tests that showed what was really going on.

He kept working for Crystal Glass, on a limited schedule, and his bosses, John Matchael and Mary Fasanaro, at one point helped him buy a house, he said.

But at the same time he was suffering from manic-depressive syndrome - which he'd had since he was 18 - and during a manic phase he stopped paying his mortgage and lost the house.

Luckily for him, Matchael had learned of an opening at the Crystal Meadows senior housing complex in Carbondale. He was able to move in there five years ago, and he is still there today.

He had been looking around for a tricycle to get himself around town, but couldn't find the exact thing he wanted until he discovered the Sidewinder Cycles firm in California and talked with the owner.

With an on-board computer, a luggage bin behind the seat and traction good enough to plow through shallow snow, it gives him freedom.

"It's pretty easy to ride," he said. "It has, I think, 62 gears. It's for both racing and [hill] climbing. I got it as a total body workout. With Parkinson's, they say you have to keep moving, or you stop moving ... if you're careful, you can ride it all year."

The steering levers, he said, mean that "your arms are actually quite involved in the process," exercising the arms, upper chest and upper back, as well as the legs.

He's had it about three weeks, has ridden it five times, and this week it was in the shop after its electric backup motor failed.

It has a top speed of about 23 miles per hour, and the electric motor has a range of about 25 miles when it's working. Another reason Chandler likes it is that he can go fast.

"It was ... exhilarating," he said of the one time he's gotten the trike to top speed.

"I'm just not into going fast regularly," he explained, adding that he never went downhill skiing because he'd feel uncomfortable at that speed.

But, he continued, "This is a vehicle I feel totally comfortable in, going fast."

Chandler hopes to get his tour plans started early in 2010 with a fund raising piano concert around Valentine's Day, and perhaps arrange sponsorships with Sidewinder or other companies, and use the road trip to raise money for a national Parkinson's support organization and for the Crystal Meadows complex where he lives.

"I'm looking at all the angles," he said of his plans. "It's substantial money I'm talking about, and it has to be well thought out."

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Dec 2, 2009 12:51AM Published Nov 28, 2009 01:26AM Copyright 2009 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.