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Wife's disease pushes cyclist across America
By Katie Robinson - Chilliwack Progress
Published: August 10, 2009

If you thought the Tour de France was crazy, cyclist Ian Fillinger would like to introduce you to his race, Race Across America – 12 days, 14 states, more than 5,100 grueling kilometres, 22 plus hours of cycling a day.

The kind of race that can break even the most-experienced cyclist.

Fillinger isn't scared, though.

Next spring, Fillinger will be participating in the 28th annual Race Across America, the toughest endurance race in the world, even tougher than Le Tour.

He won't have the luxury of blocked off roads, or a peloton slipstream to reduce wind resistance, or sleep to rejuvenate energy. From start to finish, he will be racing against the clock with no scheduled rest or break times, and will be averaging 22 hours a day in the saddle.

"It's a really tough race," says Fillinger, who's completed eight ultra cycling marathons, ranging from 200 kilometres to 1,200. "Over half the people who start, don't finish."

In fact, only six Canadians have ever finished. Fillinger is determined to become the seventh.

Race Across America will test the utmost limits of his physical endurance and mental resilience. He will be forced to hammer through fatigue, blurred vision, throbbing limbs, hands and feet growing numb, and a little devil on his shoulder repeatedly telling him to give up.

"There is no doubt that I'll hit some pretty low points," says Fillinger. "It's not going to be pretty."

And yet, he is confident he'll make it through. He has the ultra tool, he says.

His wife.

Eight years ago, Fillinger's wife, Michelle, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, and can result in loss of muscle control, vision, balance, coordination and bladder control.

There is no cure.

Without warning, Michelle's eyes will fail her, her body will go numb, extreme fatigue will battle through her – similar ailments Fillinger experiences in his ultra marathons.

"But where my contest will last 10 to 12 days, MS is a contest that lasts a lifetime," says Fillinger. "When I'm on the bike for long periods of time, I feel fatigue, I feel my hands and feet go numb, but I do get my feeling back ... my wife's feeling never comes back."

Fillinger is using the race as a platform for MS awareness. He hopes to raise $250,000 to go towards finding a cure.

To qualify for Race Across America, Fillinger had to complete the Rocky Mountain 1,200 in 65 hours. He did it in 58 hours and 42 minutes. To qualify for the Rocky, he had to complete a series of ultra events, including a 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K.

For more than two years, he has spent nearly every spare moment on the bike. He's cycled Chilliwack streets, Vancouver streets, Okanagan streets, American streets. He's danced on his pedals at all hours of the evening. He's performed in race after race after race. And the one person by his side at every ride has been his wife. At two in the morning, when his mouth starts feeling like cotton, Michelle, in a car next to him, hands over a bottle of water. At four in the morning, when his energy starts depleting, she hands over a powerbar.

For Race Across America, he'll have Michelle, and seven others, supporting him. He'll need them all.

In 28 years, only 157 cyclists have ever successfully completed the race.

"More people climb Everest than complete this thing," said Fillinger, who refuses to think of the possibility that he may not finish; that the walls he faces may not allow him to power through. "I don't want to think about that. I'm doing everything I can to ensure I get to the finish."

And if that little devil starts winning the battle, Fillinger knows he can just look down at the orange rubber bracelet around his wrist, sporting the words 'Cure MS' – a boost to surge him forward.

"When you have a cause, there's a better chance of succeeding," said Fillinger. "You're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it for the greater cause ... that's what I will draw on in the tough times."

Race Across America is on June 10, 2010.

So far, Fillinger has raised nearly $35,000 for MS.

For more information on the Race Across America, or to donate to Fillinger's cause to end MS, visit his website

Thanks to Karen Smith for finding this article.