A spin around the nation
There's a message in the 23,000 miles, 43 states and three countries that 56-year-old Stephon Swift has biked through for five-plus years and it has nothing to do with money.Awareness is what Swift, who started his bike journey on May 7, 2012 from Newport, simply wants to bring to a disease that's hit him a couple of times and taken three of his family members. Cancer is the culprit and he has spent the last five-plus years simply wanting to draw people's attention to it. It's just that simple.Swift was in Canby Tuesday afternoon to get his bike repaired locally and stopped by the Herald office to offer a few thoughts on his journey."There was no fundraising here, I just wanted to raise awareness," said Swift. "Just wanted to meet people and help people."He started in Newport and made his way to Mexico before cycling on to Texas and Florida. Along the way he stopped to visit family or was helped by the kindness of strangers he met. From Florida he went straight up the East Coast to Bangor, Main, then Nova Scotia and then through Canada to places like Montreal, Quebec and Toronto. All the while the memory of his battle against cancer and the lives of family members it took was motivating him."I first had bone cancer in 2002, but surgery took care of that," he said. "You don't think about it after, but then your sister dies from cancer and your father dies form bone cancer – three family members in all, died thorugh cancer."After his wife was killed and his daughter Savannah injured in a car accident, Swift admitted he'd just about reached the end of his tether."I was at the point where I was about to do something very stupid," he admitted.Fortunately, his daughter, who had emerged from a short coma, hit on the idea of a bike ride for awareness. For Swift, it was interesting timing as cancer had returned to his body, bringing with it a terminal diagnosis. He would ride for a while before surgery would be required again. Once feeling better, he was back on the road. And on Tuesday, he was in Canby getting ready for the last few days of a lifetime journey.There were plenty of special memories along the way, even as he was nearly killed at one point and had two of his bikes stolen along the way. The chance to build into the lives of those who are also battling cancer was its own reward."It has been a lot of fun," he said. "One of my favorite memories was building a memorial garden at a Pennsylvania church. They'd been saving up to build it, but I'm a contractor and was able to build it for free. I got to stay there for six weeks, be part of the community and meet people."It's hard to meet people who have cancer and then find out they have died," he added. "It's not cool and it's hard to talk about. But whenever I get hurt, I ride harder and faster."