Ultra Survivor – David Bradley

David Bradley - Jim Finger Photo

When it comes to Ultra Racing, David Bradley has been there.  Furnace Creek, Sebring, Race Across Oregon, TX Time Trials.  He’s raced them all.  David is also highly recruited for the other side of the windshield.  For years David has crewed for racers all over the country including several RAAM crossings.  In his spare time he created the route book for Race Across Oregon and Hill Country 600k.  David is in demand.  It all makes for an impressive ultra race resume.  But what makes these accomplishments even more impressive, even unbelievable, is one not-so-simple fact.  David has cancer.

In what seems to be a common story, upon graduating from school, David took about a 20 year break from cycling.  He grew up on bikes ripping around the neighborhood on his Schwinn Fastback and various ten-speeds all the way through college.  Then life happened.

He found himself closing in on 40 years old with two growing boys who were learning to ride bikes.  His family started riding five-mile loops around the house on mountain bikes.  The local Arcata, CA century ride, “Tour of the Unknown Coast” became a goal.  It has a fifty mile loop that’s hilly and steep so of course they signed up.  Totally unprepared wouldn’t be far from the truth, but they finished.  He was intrigued watching his friends finish the century.  Long distance rides seemed like an epic adventure.  The cycling hook was set.

After swapping out the mountain bike for a Trek 1500, David began increasing his miles.  He had completed his first century by 2004 and found himself crewing for his old friend Jim Kern.  Jim was riding RAAM as part of a four-man team and also raced solo in the Furnace Creek 508.  While crewing for Jim, David got an up-close-and-personal view of ultra bike racing.  He liked what he saw and decided to test the waters himself as part of a four-man team in the 2005 Furnace Creek 508.

David posted on the 508 website looking for fellow racers to put a team together.  From that post Team Foals was born.  David’s goal was

Team Foals

to see what an Ultra was like as a racer instead of a crew member.  He discovered racing was even more addictive.  Team Foals had a blast.  They finished the FC508 in a respectable 33 hours.  David’s only regret was that there wasn’t enough riding.  He was sure his first Ultra wouldn’t be his last.

Liposarcoma is a malignant tumor.  Very rare.  David’s first occurrence was in 1999.  He was treated near home and things remained stable for a while.  The cancer returned in 2006 and this time surgery was required.  He was able to undergo radiation at home but obviously his strength for riding wasn’t there.  Of course that didn’t stop him from crewing.  That year he crewed for a 4-man Bacchetta team at RAO and Tim Woudenberg’s record-breaking FC508.

All of David’s riding to this point was on traditional bikes.  However, most of the crewing he had done was for folks on recumbents.  Since he had become friends with many in the recumbent community he began to follow the Bacchetta forum postings.  One of Bacchetta’s owners, Rich Pinto, heard that David might be coming to Sebring in 2007.  Rich offered David his own bike to ride in the race to save him the hassle of shipping a bike from California to Florida.  How can you say no to that?  So David got to ride the flagship Titanium Aero with high-end wheels on a flat course at one of the biggest Ultra Races in the country.  You could say that was the day that David went to the dark side.  He would be bent forever more.

With David’s cancer in remission, 2007 would find David back in the saddle.  After his 197 mile ride in Sebring, David went looking for a new goal.  His triathlete friend Bill Spaeth became interested in David’s ultra efforts and they decided to team up for FC508.  Together they formed Team Raven Lunatics.  The team still exists to this day, with different versions of the team racing various events every year.

The next year, 2008, was the busiest yet.  David rode three major races consisting of Sebring, a RAO two-man with Bill Spaeth and another FC508 two-man with different partner Jim Verheul.  The highlight of the year had to be qualifying for RAAM with his stellar 402 mile solo ride at Sebring.  It seemed David was back and hitting on all cylinders.

2010 FC508 Finish - AdventureCorps Photo

After the success of 2008, David was feeling optimistic when he arrived at Sebring in 2009.  He had done the non-drafting race the previous year to RAAM qualify so he signed up for the drafting race hoping to log some big miles.  As is often the case in Ultras, things didn’t go as planned.  David’s legs were feeling good but he was having trouble digesting any calories.  Eventually he had to pull the plug after riding 263 miles.

It wasn’t his nutrition plan that failed him in Sebring.  His cancer was back with a vengeance.  Shortly after Sebring, David found a lump in his belly.  The abdominal tumor was crowding his organs and that was causing his digestive issues.  After researching the best care facilities for this type of illness, David would find himself living in Houston for nine months fighting cancer with a relentless course of chemotherapy and radiation.

After a short break at home for the holidays, David was back in Houston in January of 2010 for surgery to remove a large sarcoma.  Then he went back home for five more months of chemo.  At this point David had spent the better part of a year and a half in a literal fight for his life.  It was May of 2010, and it would be safe to say that most of us would have enjoyed a brief relaxing respite from the physical trials that David had been enduring.  But not David.  Sandy Earl had an idea.  David began training for Furnace Creek.

Sandy assembled an Ultra rock-star team to ride with David in the 2010 FC508.  His former teammates Jim Kern and Bill Spaeth would be joined by John Schlitter to create the latest version of the Raven Lunatics.  Sandy would be the only support crew and would swap out with David if he didn’t feel like riding at any point.  John even supplied the other three racers with new Bacchetta Carbon Aeros to use for the race instead of the metal recumbents the others were riding.  Interestingly enough, they all ended up buying the bikes from John at the end of the race because they couldn’t bear to part with the blue missiles.

2011 has been a mixed bag for David.  He’s had to endure more chemotherapy but

David's son Philip at the 2011 Sebring 12/24 flying the support flag which was made by David's wife Mary- Ultraracepics.com Photo

of course that didn’t keep him from racing.  He was able to hang a nice 358 mile result at Sebring before going back into treatment.  After he finished his treatment he had a followup appointment with his doctors in Houston.  Coincidentally, his appointment was the Friday before the Texas Time Trials in September.  This was too convenient so he assembled yet another version of Team Raven Lunatics with Brian Nakagawa.  The two proceeded to break the two-man team record for the 24-hour Iron Butt race with a 371 mile effort.

As if racing in these events isn’t enough, David continues to crew big races.  Every year since 2004, David has been leading at least one crew in support of RAAM, RAO or FC 508 racers.  The only exception was 2009 when he spent most of the year in the hospital in Houston.  However, he did sneak up to Kansas that year and cheer for several RAAM teams as they passed through El Dorado.  That’s dedication.

David at the Texas Time Trials - Jim Finger Photo

David also has big plans for the future.  Furnace Creek is a race very near and dear to his heart.  He’s ridden every section as a team member but the next time he would like to be solo.  That will be his fifth completion of the race and will gain him entry into the FC508 Hall of Fame.  Soloing Race Across Oregon and Hill Country 600 are also on the radar.

Balancing time, training and work is an issue all Ultra Racers have to contend with.  David’s ongoing health status is a variable few of us would be able to balance as successfully as he.  As David says, “Cancer is a huge pothole in the road of life, but I’m still driving.  Cycling is good medicine.”

When talking with David it’s apparent that it’s not the actual riding or crewing that keeps him in the game.  It’s the friendships and relationships that he cherishes.  It’s the racing family.  Ultra Racing is a conduit to those connections.

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  1. Slo Joe Recumbo says:

    I was lucky to help crew with Javid in Sebring one year. I count that as one of me cycling highlights: meeting and working with David. GREAT article Jim. Thanks for filling in the background of this amazing guy.

  2. Great article…thanks. BTW, it’s Verheul, not Verhaul… :)

  3. Teresa Bell says:

    David, you are a true inspiration to all cancer warriors. Thank you for your spirit of keeping on. Thank you for this article, something we will read over and over again.

  4. David or I mean the pirate Captain David, RRRRrrrrrrrrrrr matey as been burned into my mind ever since 2005 RAAM when he crew along side Jim Kern on our record setting recumbent Team Bacchetta four man crossing. From that point on I will always be indebted to David. Keep rolling strong !

  5. jverheul4 says:

    The 508 I rode with David in 09 was by far the most fun team ultra I ever road. I think he was crew chief and rider on that one! …..which explains why it all went so smoothly! I hope to have him as chief again one day.

  6. jverheul4 says:

    ….08 not 09! I can never get that straight for some reason.

  7. Allan Duhm says:

    Awesome way to live and attack life David. Looking forward to your Crew Chief efforts for our Team RAAM Sarcoma Powered by Bacchetta Bikes team in 2012.

  8. john west says:

    All cheer for the captain! See you and family, hopefully next STP 2012.
    John West

  9. It’s always a pleasure to have David at “The 508” every year, in any role. I always know that any team with which he’s associated will be a class act and will put in a solid performance. (In 2009, he teamed up with Jim Kern as roving 508 race officials and did a superb job at that, too.) David represents the true spirit of ultra and is an incredible asset to our community. Thanks for highlighting him on your site!

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