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THE NORMAN TRANSCRIPT

Cyclists pedaling to change lives of others
Bike-a-thon will raise funds for limbs for 50 amputees on waiting lists

By Crystal Garvin

To the chants of "Limbs for Life! Limbs for Life!" by Whittier Middle School students, Craig Gavras and Tim McCarthey began pedaling for a good cause Monday in a 208-mile trek to Dallas. Gavras, executive director of Limbs for Life and former Dallas police officer, and McCarthey, Bethany police officer, are above-the-knee amputees who each lost a leg in the line of duty. "Life isn't over due to a lost limb; there are solutions," said Gavras, who lost his leg more than five years ago. "I hope to motivate others so that when they see us doing this, they can say, 'I can do it, too.'" Called "Project 50: Seven Days, 50 Changed Lives," the bike-a-thon will raise funds for limbs for 50 amputees on waiting lists if it meets the riders' expectations. "My goal is just to bring awareness to people and also to break down the stereotype that amputees are handicapped and helpless," said McCarthey. McCarthey lost his leg last July 3 and received his prosthesis Aug. 17. "I still have a long way to go, but it is getting better each day," he said. "The difficult part is finding a way to keep the foot on the pedal, but Velcro comes in handy for that." Not sure he will be able to ride the entire 208 miles, McCarthey said he planned to ride as far as possible the first day and then a little further each day of the trip. Project 50 will culminate with a pre-game presentation on the Dallas Cowboys football field just prior to the Cowboys-Redskins game on Sunday. The two bikers planned to stop in 10 towns, including Norman, between Oklahoma City and Dallas. Doug Brooks, president of Brinker International and also and above-the-knee amputee, will join Project 50 with his bicycle in Texas on Thursday. Project 50 had its official start at the Whittier Middle School two hours after the ceremonial start in Oklahoma City. Gavras told students of the only school site stop planned that more than 2,900 people will lose limbs during the time frame of the seven-day trip. "That's why we do what we do," he noted. "Sometime around Christmas or the new year, we will provide prosthetic limbs to 50 people who cannot afford them." Gavras said that more than 170 people are on the Limbs for Life's waiting list at any given time. Hundreds of requests are received each year, and for every approved amputee put on the waiting list, another marble is added to a jar at the Limbs for Life offices in Oklahoma City. Gavras hopes to remove at least 50 of those marbles as a result of the bike-a-thon. "This ride is the first of what will become an annual event, and we want it to grow for next year," said Gavras. "We had a tremendous response but decided to start small and iron out the kinks. Next year we will take as many riders as possible," he added. "We are proud to help sponsor such a worthwhile charity," Whittier Principal Bill Nettles said. "We have been asked to host the official start, and this could become an annual event for us." Gavras founded the Limbs for Life in 1996. Since then, the non-profit organization has provided new and used prostheses to more than 5,000 people worldwide, said Gavras. While the national program raises funds for new prostheses, the international program collects used ones and redistributes them across the globe, especially in third-world countries. Limbs are lost due to circulatory diseases, cancer and trauma accidents, and more than 250,000 people lose limbs each year, adding to more than 10 million amputees worldwide. Limbs for Life promotes advanced research and provides prosthetic care to those who cannot afford it themselves through the support of national foundations, corporations and individual donations. To track the progress of Project 50 or for more information, log on to www.limbsforlife.org or call 888-235-5462.