Kyle Bryant may not be a household name—yet—but he’s become the face and voice of defeating Friedreich’s ataxia, one mile on his recumbent bike at a time. Shifting Into High Gear: One Man’s Grave Diagnosis and the Epic Bike Ride That Taught Him What Matters (Health Communications, Inc.) is the first time his story has been told for a broad audience.
Although the neurological disease progressed quickly throughout Kyle’s teens and twenties, he resolved, at twenty-five, to bike across America to raise awareness for FA sufferers everywhere. At one point in the book, momentarily defeated and introspective, Kyle remarks that even if FA were to be cured, neurological diseases are hard to just patch up.
His had progressed to the point where he would be in a wheelchair not long after the bike ride was finished. When he embarked on his bike ride, he thought he was doing it for himself, as one last hurrah, to prove that he could still be the athlete he’d always been. As his story spread, he stopped riding for himself and started riding for the generations of FA survivors after him.
Reading Kyle’s story, I was reminded of a similar book from a few years ago. Stronger (Grand Central Publishing) by Jeff Bauman, which was adapted into a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, tells the story of a man who loses his legs in the Boston marathon attack. The book documents his heroic recovery, without shying away from how difficult and painful recovery can be.
Shifting Into High Gear takes place largely in a different place in Kyle’s recovery: he is not yet immobile, but is staring down the inevitability of losing the use of his legs, of being dependent on others for the rest of his life. While this is undoubtedly an inspirational story, Kyle’s recollections of the bike ride are peppered with very human moments of self-doubt, of hopelessness, of anger at the unfairness he’s been dealt.
He admits to snapping at his parents and feeling like a fraud. He takes on the weight of representing and going to bat for a community of people who are suffering. Though it is hard for any able-bodied person to completely understand how Kyle feels as he grapples with FA, he skillfully captures the frustration of living day-to-day with a neurological disease that is only getting worse.
Nevertheless, Kyle’s optimism is unimpeachable, and just as he didn’t ride across the country simply to prove to himself that he could, he didn’t write this book to talk about his achievement. He wrote Shifting Into High Gear to raise awareness of Friedreich’s ataxia and chronicled his achievement as a way of telling his readers never to give up. He may be living with a debilitating disease, but he is not defined by his disability.
If you’re looking for a fascinating read about strength and resilience, pick up this book and follow Kyle on the bike ride that changed his life and has already made a difference to the Friedreich’s ataxia community.
Shifting Into High Gear is now available.
About Kyle Bryant
Kyle graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in Civil Engineering. He worked 5 years as an engineer before finding his calling through cycling and spreading empowerment to others. As the founder/director of rideATAXIA for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA), Kyle and his team organize family-friendly bike rides across the country to empower those with FA and raise funds for research. rideATAXIA currently has 6 locations nationwide and has raised over $7 million for FA research since 2007. Kyle’s favorite place to be is on his Catrike and he is probably on the road or bike trail at this very moment.