Well hello all, my name is Matt Beggarly and I just want to introduce myself to you all. While I am not one of the official Brand Ambassadors of Schwinn, I figured maybe you should still get to know me, because I have a secret. My Schwinn changed my life.
Just like any other middle aged man celebrating his 25th High School reunion I compared myself to my peers. I thought I looked good. Yeah, I was overweight, by what I thought was just a little, nothing I couldn’t lose if I tried, but at least I had a full head of hair and few wrinkles, something not every one of my peers could boast about. I barely exercised, I worked all the time and yes I would get winded but I figured that is what happened when you got to be around my age.
The reunion went fantastic. A night of fun and celebration led to many great memories, but little did I know my life would be forever altered just a week later. The date was October 11th, 2013. It was the Friday after my reunion and I was eating lunch at the McDonald’s across the street from my office, as I did most days. I was logged onto their WIFI and checking my emails when I felt like I was having a panic attack. Nausea set in. A few seconds later and I stood up and my friends, that is all she wrote. Not my finest hour, because I was DEAD on the floor of a McDonald’s. Yup, you read that right at the age of 42 I suffered what is known as a 100% widow maker/sudden stoppage heart attack.
Thank goodness there was a retired Marine paramedic named Janet there who started CPR on me immediately. If it was not for this wonderful soul, you would not be reading this right now, and nothing I am about to tell you would have ever happened. What CPR does more than anything else is keep oxygen flowing to the brain till the heart can be restarted, it keeps the brain from shutting down, so if you haven’t ever taken a class, please do. Learning it could save a life. Roughly about 1500 people worldwide live once CPR is started (much different then you see on TV), but if it was not for the CPR those people, and myself would not have survived.
The paramedics shocked my heart back into action and I was rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital, only a mile away from the McDonalds, for an emergency stent and balloon pump operation. During the emergency procedure I actually watched my heart stop beating several times on the real time 3d monitor. All together that day I was clinically dead for about 9.5 minutes.
On that Monday, the 20th, I was strong enough to undergo an 18 hour quad bypass open heart surgery. Veins were harvested from my legs to replace the damaged ones in my heart; however, I had a stroke during my surgery. This was not known till I awoke 2 days later and it became clear the left side of my body was not fully responding. So at the age of 42 my life had for the second time in a week changed in a moment.
My speech, face and arm functions returned rather quickly; however, my leg did not. I couldn’t support my weight and had to use a full brace and a walker. Thinking back on that moment I was beyond angry. Now, I full owned the fact that I wasn’t active before these events. I always talked about getting healthy, heck I joined gyms every year, but I rarely went. At that moment of sudden realization I thought, man I should have done more, and that thought, that I could have prevented this, crushed me.
After almost a month in the hospital I was finally cleared to leave. I could not walk more than 50 feet without a cane before having to rest and sometimes fall asleep. This was a very difficult time in my life, but I was determined to get stronger. It really was not up to me though. Let me tell you now, of just some of the damage that was caused from my heart attack. A normal Ejection Fraction (the amount of blood your heart pumps in a single pump) is 50%, mine was 20%. I am 1 of only 4 people a year out of 7 billion people who survive a 100% widow maker, beyond rare. Eventually, my ejection fraction grew to 40% and my leg slowly began to work, because of the continued effort and exercise (mostly walks).
2014 held few new things for me. It was a matter of just getting my life back, but I found myself quickly returned to old behaviors and my old lifestyle. It is a statistic that most heart patients return to old behaviors, because that is what they know, and I was no different. Enter the summer of 2015 and another blow to my health.
I was diagnosed with a very small brain tumor as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Both were caught extremely early on and were entirely treatable, but there was a catch. Because of the enormous amount of dead heart muscle I was told that the only way I could survive the treatments was to exercise and to exercise a lot. So, that is what I did.
A young lady I was friends with suggested to me that I set a goal and I work towards that. Never allowing myself to deviate from the goal or give it up. She suggested a triathlon. A simple sprint and well I figured that was a good call, so I signed up for one in the spring of 2016. If you do not know what a triathlon is, it is a race that combines swimming, bicycling and running with no breaks. A sprint is typically a 400-800 meter open water swim, an 11-18 mile bike ride followed by a 5k-10k race. I choose the shortest one.
I did not own a bike I had no idea what I needed or if I was even going to do another one so I refused to spend crazy amounts of money. Heck if it was going to be like my past exercising rituals it would hang on the wall for a decade. With that in mind I went shopping. I went to a bike shop and all the bikes there were crazy priced and held brands I had never really heard of. Finally, after stopping by my local Walmart I came across a model I thought I would like. It was a Schwinn Varsity 1250, Schwinn was a name I knew and trusted. Yes, it was an everyday person’s bike, built heavier than the carbon fiber road bikes that lined the bike shop walls, but built durable, and I figured it would serve me well. Plus the price was perfect. It was the week after Christmas and the bike was on a super holiday sale. I was sold.
So bam, I had a bike and boy did I start to ride it. I found that unlike running, which I hate, mostly because I have Barney Rubble legs, I loved to ride. I could accomplish large distances and I could feel like I really accomplished something other than just a run down the street and back. Eventually, I started to take overnight rail trail rides and loved the feeling of freedom and effort that came with those long hours and miles spent on the bike.
The date of my sprint came soon enough and I headed to Virginia Beach. I hadn’t told a single person what my intentions were. I simply put my bike in the racks alongside the thousand dollar bikes that were my competition and I just had to laugh. One thing about a bike, is that it is kind of like a sports car with a 4 cylinder engine. If the motor that powers your engine, in a bike’s case the riders legs are no good, then the looks don’t even matter. I felt confident. I was ready. There were 753 competitors at the event. I placed 6th in my age group out of 243 and I even placed 1st in the “once dead” category.
After finishing and not dying, I was introduced to the folks of the Ironheart Foundation. This is a group of international athletes who all have some medical issue, but yet compete on the world stage. Most have heart conditions but they don’t let their illness stop them from doing things like Ultra Running, and IronMan Trialthlons (2 mile swim, 110 mile bike rides then a marathon). I am a rare one in this group because I was never truly athletic before this sprint but I was hooked. I started asking for help and it was great to meet people my age and with my illness. Over the summer of 2016 I competed in 3 more triathlons and at much increased distance.
With my cancer, stroke and heart issues no longer hindering me I got into exercising big time. When I had my heart attack I was 280lbs wore a size 44 waist, but by the time I competed in my sprint I was 235 and wore a size 40. So, the results were pretty clear. However, one thing that plagued me was I suffered from anxiety and medical PTSD. A member of Ironheart suggested that to clear hers up she took a major bike ride. A total of 2000 miles and said it changed her life. She had left it all on the road. I put all of about two hours of thought into the decision to follow her lead and do it, before I called her back and told her she was going to have to help me plan. She said, “Plan what?” My response was simple, “I am going to ride my Schwinn across the United States, from Jacksonville Florida to San Diego California”.
It was at that moment that my workouts took off and I started two-a-day exercise routines. I had about two months to get ready to leave and I knew I needed to be in the best shape of my life. Many laughed at my goal, because I was taking my trusty Schwinn across this distance with me, but let me explain why. The bike is built tough, it is made to take day in and day out abuse. Parts are readily available and it doesn’t require tune-ups every single day. So on September 23rd I dipped my back tire in the Atlantic Ocean and I set off on a completely solo epic journey of a lifetime, at the age of 45, with a heart condition. By that time, I was down to 205 and size 38 inch waist and I felt great.
In total I covered 4.5 states (1426 miles of the 3215) traveling from Jacksonville, Florida to Dallas, Texas before coming to a stop after being run off the road by an unaware driver on a shallow shoulder straight road. My injuries were minor, but enough for me to have to fly home. But let me tell you this, my bike survived, it did as expected, it held true to the quality that is Schwinn. When I returned home, physically my two month ride transformed my body. I am now 210lbs with a size 32 inch waist (1st time since 9th grade), I have a six pack set of abs, along with no, and I repeat no sign of ever having a heart attack. Even my ejection fraction is at 65% the same as a professional athlete. This new version of me will really stand out at my next reunion.
In March of 2017 I will be heading out again to restart this epic journey. Yes, unlike any other athlete my trip will start over from the beginning, but this time I will make it to San Diego. I rode across 5 states on my Schwinn. I saw things I cannot fully described, met the most amazing people, and lived the adventure of a lifetime. With what I know now I am going back at it. I have to go back at it. I am going to be the first triple survivor to make this trip….the first and I am going to do it on a Schwinn.
If you would like to read more about my first trip and the details of what happened in each state, like having to carry my bike through alligator infested waters, because a bridge was out, camping on the banks of the Mississippi like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, riding a float in the Halloween parade of New Orleans, or sitting on the gulf coast crying, because I did something I never thought I could do….I rode a bicycle halfway across the US then please read my blogs/photos or visit my personal Facebook page, it is public as well as broken not beaten cross country cycle trip.
The journey to life and the lessons from my trip have changed my life. Schwinn sponsors my ride with repairs along the way. They are the epitome of a great company with a great product. Without their help I could have never done something this amazing, and let me tell you each and every one of us can do something amazing. It isn’t in the cranks and gears of the bike; it is in the heart that drives the person to achieve amazing things. If you would like to join me for a day or two on my restart you are more than welcome….all I can say is it will change your life.
In 2013 Matt Beggarly had a heart attack that by all rights should have left him for dead. Instead blessed with a second chance he found strength in the bike. After his first attempt to ride across the lower states from sea to sea was stalled by an unforeseen accident, he has decided to make the attempt again. With the strength of a survivor he now devotes his time to sharing his story and helping other people do great things!