Edmonds latest stop on cancer survivor’s sixth round-the-world bicycle trek
In 1987, Randolph Westphal was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. The doctors gave him six months to live.
“I decided I wanted to see the world before I died,” he says.
Lacking the means to travel in luxury, he chose a bicycle. In late 1987, he set off from his native Frankfurt, Germany towing his pet Malamute, Shir Khan, in a cart behind his bike.
He traveled across Europe and Scandinavia, criss-crossed the North American continent twice, and in 1996 traveled to South America.
Today, 26 years and six world tours later, he’s still at it.
“When you see death in front of you, you see the world with other eyes,” he said. “For me it was a new purpose in life: helping other people. I show that nobody is a statistic. I show people to never give up.”
The 55-year-old Westphal doesn’t stay in one place for long. He and his two Malamutes, Nanook and Chinook (grandson of Shir Khan) rode off the ferry into Edmonds on Friday. Saturday he heads north. He’ll spend the night in Everett en route to his Oct. 3 speaking engagement before the Sedro-Wooley Rotary.
His dogs aren’t his only traveling companions: His cancer rides with him too. Over the course of his travels, Westphal has had 28 surgeries for recurring melanoma, four of them life-threatening.
But cancer has not been his only challenge.
“On Oct. 31, 1996, I was hit by a car in Argentina and knocked off a cliff,” he said. His beloved Shir Khan died at scene. His left leg crushed, he suffered memory loss and temporary blindness. The doctors were preparing to amputate his leg when friends from Germany intervened. They had him transferred to a hospital in Buenos Aires where surgeons painstakingly pieced his leg back together.
They said he’d never walk again.
His memory slowly returning, Westphal spent the next three years in a wheelchair. “My left leg is now 4 cm shorter so I walk a little funny,” he said with a smile. “But I got back on the bike and I can ride just fine.”
The leg continues to give him problems. All told he’s had 48 procedures, the most recent this past August. “I was near Prince George, Canada when I developed an infection in the leg,” he said. He got to the hospital just in time. “The infection had moved through my system and was very close to my heart. The doctor told me that two more hours and I’d have been dead.”
Unlike most motivational speakers, Westphal is a one-man show. He has no organization behind him, no booking agents, and no marketing. People hear about him though word of mouth, news reports like this one, his Facebook page and a personal web page.
“My message is simple,” he said. “My cancer is always with me. The trick is learning how to live with it, and live in spite of it. And never, never give up.”
– Story and photo by Larry Vogel