Database Administrator John Springfield: "I wonder what would have happened if I had been out on the road when my heart attack happened. It makes you realize you have to keep the right perspective in life." (Photo by Justin Knight)
Springfield, who has made several long distance tours since he took up cycling in the 1970s, was relaxing one evening last month in his Newton home after having returned from his travels across the northern Midwest and southern Canada to Rochester, Minn.
Suddenly, he found himself perspiring and with an ominous pain in his upper chest. He told his wife he needed to go to the hospital.
Soon after they arrived at Newton-Wellesley Hospital emergency room, Springfield learned he was having a heart attack. Although the attack was not considered serious, Springfield was hospitalized for six days and spent a lengthy period recuperating at home. He returned to work full-time this week.
In an age when diet and exercise are touted as key factors in preventing heart attacks, Springfield's experience appears to defy conventional wisdom. The lanky father of two does not smoke and has the cardiovascular capacity to exercise all day long, racking up to 100 miles per day on his summer bike trip.
Springfield can't help thinking that his decision to cut his trip short - he had originally planned to ride out to Montana, but elected not to for a variety of reasons - might have involved the influence of a higher power.
"I wonder what would have happened if I had been out on the road when my heart attack happened," he said. "It makes you realize you have to keep the right perspective in life."
As it turned out, the infarction had been caused by a blood clot that made its way into his heart but, fortunately, did not cause any damage to his cardiac muscle.
"The doctors told me that it was statistically a very rare occurrence that could happen to anyone," said Springfield, who works in IT's Enterprise Computing Services department.
Springfield says he felt relieved to learn that, contrary to the belief of some friends and co-workers, his avid cycling did not contribute to the heart attack. In addition to his long distance treks - including Seattle-to-Boston in 1976 and Boston-to-Florida in 1994 - he regularly goes on what he calls "200 milers" from Boston to Vermont, often over a long weekend.
A Michigan native, Springfield had been researching his family's genealogy during the past year, and planned a summer bike trip that would enable him to visit some distant relatives in the Midwest he had located through the Internet. So he set out in mid-July on his 10-speed 1963 Frejus steel frame bicycle from a family cottage in upstate New York.
Cross-country journeys can offer a whole range of health hazards, Springfield says, such as large trucks whose drivers seldom pay attention to people on bicycles.
"I thought I'd had it at one point," he said, describing one section of highway in eastern Michigan populated almost exclusively by 18-wheelers. "You have to be totally aware when you're out there. You can't lose your concentration."
Yet it was nature, not man, that provided Springfield with one of his most memorable experiences on the trip. Pedaling along a stretch of road in Ontario, Springfield stumbled upon the nesting area of a species of bird apparently unafraid to protect its home. Like a scene from a Hitchcock movie, the winged attackers besieged Springfield, buzzing around his head and flying into his face.
"I was glad I was wearing a helmet because I think they were trying to dive bomb me," he said.
Once his recovery is complete, Springfield plans to strap on his helmet and ride again. He may not rough it as much he used to - he stayed in motels instead of camping out during his summer trip - but he still finds enjoyment out on the open road, for all the testy truckers and belligerent birds.
"It's a lot different than traveling by car," Springfield said. "You have to interact with people and their environment."
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