Pedaling his way through life toward health
Eric Stockley has logged thousands of miles in faraway places, seeing the world from the seat of his bicycle. Cycling is his hobby, passion, social outlet and mostly his salvation from the coronary disease that first struck when he was just 29. After undergoing bypass surgery, doctors warned him he was at serious risk for a heart attack.
British-born, Mr. Stockley grew up in Leeds, a city many Americans associate with the British rock group, The Who, and their “Live at Leeds,” concert recorded for the eponymous album in 1970. Mr. Stockley, 19 at the time, says today he “regrets not shelling over the $2 for the ticket.” He has no regrets, though, about trading his British citizenship for an American passport a little more than a decade later.
After graduating nursing school, and married with two small children, he looked for an “8 to 5 job,” he says. He found it at what was called at the time “The VD Clinic,” where he practiced hands-on medicine: reading slides, performing spinal taps and administering drugs to patients. His career in public health was launched. When the AIDS epidemic spread across the globe, he said, “(sexually transmitted diseases) became serious business.” Today he works for the Charlotte County Health Department in AIDS prevention education, performing outreach on other public health issues.
He first saw his adopted country from a bike. He flew from the UK to Miami to pedal solo the first leg of a tour around the world. He rode from Southern Florida to El Paso, Texas, headed north and crossed into Canada, turned around and headed south again. He recalls celebrating his 31st birthday in Pinion, a high village in Southern New Mexico. The tourism slogan for New Mexico is “Enchantment USA,” and Mr. Stockley was thoroughly enchanted with New Mexico and the United States.
After leaving the U.S., he rode across Mexico, Central and South America. In the spring of 1982, he went to The British Embassy in Lima, Peru, to collect his mail and learned that the United Kingdom and Argentina were at war over the Argentine invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands. His countrymen advised that further travel in South America would be risky.
By 1988, he was American citizen.
Within one year of working for a mental health clinic in Texas, he was made the director of mental health for nine Texas counties. While living in Lubbock, Texas, he came across a newsletter from a California group known as S.C.O.R. (Specialized Coronary Outpatient Rehabilitation). He found a cycling club that encourages the sport as therapy for people with heart diseases and started to ramp up the miles. Endurance, not speed, is where he shines, always a top contender in the club’s 24-hour races. In 1994, he was a member of the S.C.O.R.-sponsored team of Race Across America, pedaling 2,901 miles. He still chuckles when he recalls, “We beat two teams without cardiac issues.”
In 1985, the day after his 45th birthday, when while working out in a Tampa gym, his genes caught up with him. After he collapsed, a bystander performed CPR. Angioplasty surgery was performed, and doctors placed a defibulator in his chest. Since then, he says, the device has shocked his heart back to life “four or five times.”
Soon after that he was back on his bike, planning the next route of his world tour. Three years ago, he biked through China. Last year he rode with a group in India. Three months later, he logged 10,000 miles in Australia.
Today, the Port Charlotte resident rides close to home with his own version of S.C.O.R., preferring Specialized Cardiac Outdoor Recreation as a friendlier, more inclusive acronym. The local S.C.O.R. is organized within the larger Peace River Riders Bicycle Club. Mr. Stockley says there are about 12 regular S.C.O.R. riders. None of them, he says, are “cardiac cripples.” Some turned to biking for relief from arthritic pain, to counter the effects on the body from diabetes and even for weight loss. When they first started riding, he says, “We were giving each other high fives after riding five miles. Today, less than a year later, he says the group “easily rides 20-25 miles.” He says there’s no pressure to keep up, no one’s ever left behind and there’s plenty of socializing, too.
He extends an invitation to all to join them in riding scenic routes throughout Charlotte County in this country he calls, “the finest place to live in the world.” ¦