MONROE — Ken Mercurio was told he would never ride a bicycle again after a horrific accident in November 2007.
Five vertebrae in the Monroe resident’s neck had to be fused together with two rods and several screws.
But he was riding a stationary bike three months after the accident and in the Blue Ridge Parkway race nine months after the accident, defying the odds his doctor gave him.
“I signed up for this race before my accident, so it was a big goal of mine,” he said.
Now, 4 1/2 years after the accident, the 60-year-old Mercurio will be going on one of the most risky adventures of his life — a 4,200-mile bicycle trek from Butte, Mont., to Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska, and back. It’s not so much the miles, but, because of his medical history, one fall or jolt to his neck could leave him injured, or worse, paralyzed.
“I just have to be extra careful not to fall,” he said.
The ride is for the Chicago chapter of the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure.
The accident happened after Mercurio completed a 32-day ride across the country with “America by Bicycle.” He was on a training ride with professionals and was traveling around 28 miles per hour when his bike’s fork snapped and went into the spokes of the front wheel. He landed on his head.
Four other bicyclists will join Mercurio on the ride to Alaska: Bob Brown, 60, and his son Derek Brown, 21; Rick Smith, 64; and Burt Stock, 60.
Bob Brown, a longtime friend and former coworker at Nestle in California, called Mercurio “one of the bravest guys” he knows.
“As horrific as (his accident) was, if he would have moved improperly (after he flipped), that could have been it for him,” Brown said. “It is just great to see him back on the bike, and he can put all that behind him.”
Brown said he and his fellow bicyclists will keep an extra eye on Mercurio, making sure he and they have the proper tires for weather and terrain and that everyone breaks when fatigue shows.
“If you’re too tired, that’s when accidents happen,” he said. “You have to keep your focus.”
Mercurio was a long distance runner until he met Brown when he hired him at Nestle, then known as Carnation, in 1979. Brown’s enthusiasm for bicycling was contagious enough that Mercurio tried it, and he fell in love with the sport.
“It interested me because there are so many places you could go and see,” and you can go farther on a bike in the same amount of time, he said.
The five bicyclists have raised more than $14,000 for the Tour de Cure, about 51 percent of the group’s goal. They will depart from Montana on June 15 and plan to take seven weeks to ride to Alaska and about halfway back for the 4,200-mile goal. An RV will travel with the riders.
Mercurio, who was a nutritionist for Nestle until he retired nearly six years ago, is doing the ride because it’s an adventure and “to raise money for a needed cause.” He said he’s up for any adventure, but if it’s linked to a worthy cause, it makes it that much sweeter.
A few years after his “America by Bicycle” tour and breaking his neck, Mercurio sailed a boat for 14 months covering 7,000 miles, circling the eastern third of the United States.
“Adventures are exciting,” said the native Californian whose family often took three-week vacations across the country. “We were always taking these long trips. It just filtered down to me.”
For his next adventure: a trip to Europe, with bike in tow, and an eye at visiting some of the Tour de France climbs.