Anyone who has met Ryan Schultz knows that he lives and breathes biking.
Biking is what brought the then 27-year-old to Fernie in 1999, but prior to living in the mountain town, he worked in Fernie for four years.
All jobs that Schultz has had in Fernie have revolved around biking – from working in repair shops to working at Fernie Alpine Resort on the trail crew as a ‘glorified ditch digger’. Now 46 years old, he still considers this one of the best jobs he has ever had.
“It was really satisfying to create something and then stand back in the bushes and watch it get used,” he said.
Hearing the hoots and hollers coming from mountain bikers using his trail for the first time, to Schultz, is one of the best feelings in the world.
In October of 2017, everything changed for Schultz. He was sitting on his exercise ball in his living room, editing photos on his computer. He got up to go to the kitchen, and he tripped – over nothing.
Schultz sits on the floor in his living room as he explains what happened. When he fell, he sat there, thinking, “That was weird, that doesn’t make any sense”.
A few days later Schultz was walking around Maiden Lake, and stepped on a root with just the ball of his foot, but all strength had gone from his foot which caused him to fall.
Gradually, strength began leaving his right leg and foot.
On January 4, 2018, Schultz saw a neurologist in Calgary who confirmed his worst fear.
“On that day, I was told that we have a lot more tests to prove it, but he believed that there’s a good chance that ALS was the cause of this.
“At that point, I didn’t know the magnitude of what ALS really is,” said Schultz.
When he arrived home, Schultz did a quick search online, about what ALS is.
“It hit us like a freight train,” he said. “Floored, just couldn’t believe it.”
Not long after, Schultz went for more tests, determined to prove that doctor wrong. He underwent many tests, hoping that they would determine it was MS, a stroke, or even cancer.
However, even after multiple tests, Schultz was showing signs that couldn’t be explained by anything other than ALS: referred reflexes (reflexes traveling around the body), extreme weakness as well as fasciculations (twitching), the severeness of which increase as Schultz exercises.
“Doctors say that ALS really isn’t a painful disease,” said Schultz. “But as muscles are stopping to work, other muscles will do the work for the muscles that aren’t working.”
All of this meant that Schultz could no longer ride a regular bike. The days of climbing a trail to be rewarded by a descent are over, except through the help of an e-bike.
Schultz has been aware that e-bikes exist for over a year, but never took a vested interest in them until his legs lost their strength.
However, he ran into issues when he discovered that all-mountain e-bikes cost an average of $5000 or more. Schultz’ development of ALS has caused him to quit his job and live on a disability income. With a family, and a wife working tirelessly to support them, purchasing something of that scale was out of the question. Even purchasing one of low value was hard to justify.
“I had pretty much given up on having a new bike, ever again,” he said. “I call it somewhat irresponsible of me to spend a significant amount of money on a bike while trying to raise a family.”
While all this was going on, Schultz was unaware that a group of his closest friends were working behind the scenes to secretly purchase him the e-bike of his dreams.
In just over a week, 101 people had raised $8525 in a gofundme fundraiser entitled, ‘Get Ryan an eBike”.
The fundraiser was kickstarted by Jude Smith and Jacqueline Fieldhouse, two close friends of Schultz, and was also supported by countless others. As more found out about Schultz’ diagnosis, the tight-knit group of friends knew they had to do this for him.
Because of Schultz’ enthusiastic and uplifting attitude, Smith described going on a bike ride with Schultz as most likely the best bike ride you’ve ever been on.
After a few phone calls, retired pro rider and co-owner of Endless Biking in Vancouver, Darren Butler put them in contact with Rocky Mountain Bicycles who offered them a pro deal on one of their e-bikes. In addition, a bike shop in Invermere offered to build the bike once it arrived. Once that was in place, a gofundme was set up and fundraising took off.
Smith said it showed both he and Ryan just how supportive the biking community, and the community of Fernie, is.
Schultz wasn’t meant to find out about the surprise until the bike arrived in the new year, however, it turns out it’s pretty hard to keep something like that a secret.
“What a range of emotions, discovering it” said Schultz. “From completely excited and happy, blown away, to also the other end of the spectrum… it does leave a bit of an uncomfortable feeling in a way, receiving something like this.”
Schultz further explained that he would far rather be on the giving end of things than the receiving side.
“But at the same time, so moved, so touched. It’s so heartfelt that people are recognizing my passion for bikes,” he said. “To have friends go ahead and recognize a passion of mine, something that would bring me such great joy… it’s unbelievable to have this happen.”
Schultz says this will allow him to stay on the trails. For the past summer he has been borrowing an e-bike from a friend, and says this summer was his best in years. He added that he was at a loss for words and couldn’t accurately articulate just how much joy he was feeling.
The bike is to be presented to Schultz in February. Excess funds after purchase of the bike will be used to renovate Schultz’s home.