Dennis Vanderheiden of Fort Collins, Colorado, is propelling two people forward as he cycles 585 miles in 13 days across his home state to raise money for Angelman syndrome research.
A buddy with the disorder, Paul James (P.J.) Snyder, is riding in the bike trailer that Vanderheiden pulls across Colorado’s spectacular but challenging terrain.
The two are taking part in the Four Corners to a Home competition, whose goals are to raise awareness of the disease, money for research and money for a home for Snyder and his mother Cindy. The ride started July 13 and is expected to end July 30.
Athletes in Tandem is sponsoring the event. Vanderheiden founded the organization in the belief that people of all abilities can increase their quality of life with outdoor activity.
The name of the organization gives you an idea of what it’s about: It pairs healthy athletes with those with disabilities. The two-person teams compete in cycling, swimming, running, and triathlons.
Snyder has participated in about 70 events with the group since 2012, including the 2014 Boulder Ironman. Most of the time he’s been paired with Vanderheiden.
A documentary film about the Four Corners to a Home ride will tell Vanderheiden’s and Synder’s story.
Cindy Snyder adopted P.J. when he was 8 years old and had just been diagnosed with Angelman’s. His father left his birth mother when the boy was 22 months old. His birth mother became overwhelmed with caring for him and put him up for adoption when he was 4. He is now 31.
Vanderheiden lost his wife of 31 years to a brain tumor in 2015 when she was 54.
The documentary will also focus on how Athletes in Tandem enhances Cindy and P.J.’s quality of life — and the quality of life of others with disabilities.
In addition to raising money for Angelman research, Athletes in Tandem hopes to pay for a home for Cindy and P.J.
Four Corners to a Home participants are cycling from the southwestern-most point of Colorado, where the state meets Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, to the city of Golden, which is in the foothills of the Rockies just west of Denver.
Those who would like to help Vanderheiden, Snyder and other ride participants defray their trip expenses can go to the Fund The Ride donation site. Any excess money donated there will go toward a crowdfunding campaign for the documentary.
The Angelman Syndrome Foundation says the rare neurogenetic disorder occurs in one in 15,000 births.
Characteristics of the disorder include developmental delays, lack of speech, seizures, walking and balance disorders, and scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. It is often misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy or autism. A person with Angelman syndrome requires life-long care.
The Canadian Angelman Syndrome Society says the cause of the disease is a defective gene in a chromosome inherited by the child’s mother. It occurs with equal frequency in men and women. Current treatments include anti-seizure medication and therapies to help manage medical and developmental concerns.
The disease is named for a British pediatrician, Dr. Harry Angelman, who first described the syndrome in 1965,