Conquering Adversity–and Embracing Life–by Riding STP

Riding my electric cargo bike is my favorite thing

Paul Tolmé

Tom Ahearne training for STP on the Burke-Gilman Trail
  • Tom Ahearne took up hand cycling to strengthen his body and mind following a snowboarding crash that paralyzed his legs. 
  • After beating cancer Paul Kogelmann is back on his bike and riding for health and happiness. 
  • Both are training for the Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic Presented by Alaska Airlines. 

On a long bike ride, and in life, everyone encounters adversity. 

For Tom Ahearne and Paul Kogelmann, training to ride in the 206-mile Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic Presented by Alaska Airlines this July 15-16 is a testament to perseverance in the face of major physical challenges. 

Ahearne is training to ride the 206-mile event on his hand cycle after being paralyzed in a snowboarding crash and surviving the mental health challenges that followed. 

Kogelmann, his strength depleted by cancer and chemotherapy, is training for STP because moving through nature by bike is one of his great joys.

Read more about Ahearne’s and Kogelmann’s roads to STP, and the mental and physical benefits both derive from biking, below. And join them on the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic big group ride by registering for STP. 

Ahearne: “It’s Been a Life-Saver”

Tom Ahearne led a life of outdoor adventure. He raced motorcycles, snowboarded, and hiked into the wilderness every fall for a two-week bow hunting trip.

On Feb. 11, 2014, while attempting a flip on his snowboard, his T12 vertebra burst and, he says, “in a split second permanently paralyzed my legs.”

Several years of dark moods followed as Ahearne grappled with the knowledge that he could no longer do many of the physical activities he once loved. Goaded by friends, family, and his physical therapist, he bought a hand cycle–a trike that enables riders to pedal with their arms.

“This trike has been a life-saver for me emotionally,” says Ahearne, who was featured on King 5 during Mental Health Month in May

Chris Cashman of King 5 interviews Tom Ahearne

In 2021, Ahearne, who lives on Bainbridge Island, participated in the summer edition of Cascade’s Chilly Hilly ride when the event was moved to August instead of February due to the pandemic. He had a great time, prompting him to consider doing STP in 2022.

Unfortunately, he was unable to find any Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant hotels at the midpoint that could accommodate his wheelchair. This year, he found and booked an ADA-compliant hotel room, enabling him to participate in STP.

“The Cascade folks went out of their way to help me with all the logistical hurdles: arranging transport of my wheelchair and medical supplies from the starting line to the midpoint overnight stop, and then again to the finish line in Portland,” Ahearne says.

Ahearne hopes that by sharing his story he can encourage others with leg paralysis to try hand cycling. “This trike allows me to be physically active. It’s been a life-saver.” 

Read our previous story about Ahearne and paralympic handbike racing. 

Paul Kogelmann: “I was a Zombie”

Paul Kogelmann is training for the Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Presented by Alaska Airlines

For most of his adult life, Kogelmann, 63, lived an active outdoor lifestyle that included skiing all winter and bicycling long distances in the summer. In 1998 and 1999, he rode STP in one day.

In January of 2021, doctors diagnosed him with an aggressive form of Stage 4 esophageal cancer. “Get your affairs in order,” he was told. The odds of surviving were slim.

He underwent radiation treatments and more than a year of intense chemotherapy. His weight dropped to 135 pounds, from 195. “I was a zombie for all of 2021,” he says, describing the effects of cancer and chemotherapy as “a crushing blow to the mind, body, and soul.” 

Somehow, Kogelmann beat the odds. In 2022, he began feeling better. “They’ve told me this recovery is uncommon. I’ll take it.” 

His weight is back up to 165 pounds, and he has resumed riding–though at a slower pace. He recently rode 40 miles during the 7 Hills of Kirkland, and he plans to continue increasing his mileage and time in the saddle through early summer and into July. 

Kogelmann still visits the Kaiser Permanente hospital on Capitol Hill one per month for maintenance chemotherapy treatments. He thanked his oncologist, Richard Ancheta, M.D., and the Kaiser Permanente physicians and nurses who delivered his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “They are angels. They made me whole again.”

Like Ahearne, Kogelmann plans to ride STP in two days. “My goal is to finish it and feel good.” And like Ahearne, Kogelmann is sharing his story to encourage others with cancer to continue fighting, and to honor those who helped in his recovery.

“I want to live,” Kogelmann says. “I want to travel and do things.”

STP is for Everyone

The entire Cascade family looks forward to seeing Ahearne and Kogelmann during STP 2023. Their perseverance inspires us. If you see them along the route, give them a high five. 

Adversity is universal. It’s how we respond that matters.

Read more stories about STP riders training for the 2023 event on Cascade's News tab. 

Ahearne hand cycling on the Burke-Gilman Trail

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