Pleasanton Weekly

Column - June 8, 2007

Once near death from stroke, Joe Jones, friend on 565-mile bike ride to L.A.

by Jeb Bing

It was 1989 and Pleasanton Housing Commissioner Joe Jones was just 29, lying on an emergency room gurney at Valley Memorial Hospital in Livermore near death after suffering a massive cerebral brain hemorrhage. A neurosurgeon told his wife Kathy that Joe had about a 5 percent chance to live, later changing that to what he considered a more optimistic outlook of a lifetime in a nursing home as a complete invalid.

Today, Joe and his good friend Rob Gibbs, a Pleasanton businessman, are nearing the end of a 565-mile, seven-day bicycle ride to Los Angeles, having left the Cow Palace last Sunday morning along with a record 2,300 cyclists from 10 countries and 43 states who are part of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride that so far has raised $11 million in the effort to combat AIDS.

The ride is quite an accomplishment for both men. Jones is paralyzed on much of his left side, with no use of his arm and about an 80 percent recovery in his leg. He has little vision in his left eye and no left-side perimeter vision out of either eye. Gibbs was 50 years old when he met Jones three years ago at a backyard barbecue. At one time a fit and trim high school and college wrestler, he weighed in at 255 and was gaining, with high blood pressure.

The chance meeting--Gibb's daughter Michelle was dating Jones' son Justin--probably saved Gibbs from a heart attack and also gave Jones the partner he needed to pursue major cycling events on his special recumbent tricycle. That day, Jones showed Gibbs the 10-foot-long Australian two-seater tandem cycle made by Greenspeed. The two peddled up to Danville and back, Gibbs puffing all the way, but determined to join Jones in a vigorous lifestyle change.

Since that chance meeting, the two started cycling 150 miles a week, usually to Concord, Castro Valley, Sunol and then back up the Bernal grade to Jones' home on Touriga Drive. Jones sits in front, working the 72 gears and peddling and steering the front two wheels with only his right foot and hand, with Gibbs in the back peddling a bit harder (Jones' knees still give him trouble). They have clocked more than 8,700 miles together, before this week's AIDS Ride. They've entered competitions in Solvang, Paso Robles and elsewhere, with Gibbs now weighing just 200 pounds and having normal blood pressure. For Gibbs' wife Catherine and their two daughters, Michelle and Catherine, it's comforting to know Gibbs is feeling well again.

For Jones, a former mechanical design engineer who is serving his second four-year term on the Housing Commission, cycling is his lifeline to staying healthy. An accomplished skier and tennis champion in his younger years, Jones thought he was physically fit. Then one night he was lying in bed with Kathy watching the news on TV when he was hit with an excruciating headache. When he moved his arms up to place under his head, the left arm wouldn't move. Getting up to walk it off, he fell off the bed and his left side was completely paralyzed. Paramedics rushed him to Valley Memorial, and sucked out a tangerine-size clot, but not before it had destroyed brain cells in the right hemisphere. Once released to a rehab institution, Jones was determined to make the best of a tough situation, finally finding the special cycles Greenspeed makes for handicapped people in his situation.

Today, thanks to his determination and cycling, few know the situation he's been through. For Jones, his wife and their sons Justin and Trenton, he's a regular part of the family. With the Gibbs, they'll be on hand at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Center Saturday to greet the riders and drive them home to Pleasanton.


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