Published September 24, 2013
This is not how Jacob Landis' cross-country adventure was supposed to end. With a concussion, a broken cheekbone, a broken nose, a chipped tooth and a ride to the ballpark in a truck.
He was supposed to pedal triumphantly into Marlins Park on Tuesday night, kind of like the leader of the Tour de France entering Paris. Only Landis didn't ride more than 10,000 miles to earn a yellow jersey and a few million dollars.
He did it to raise money for hearing impaired kids. Landis had successfully pedaled to 29 Major League ballparks. Then Saturday night on a dark Florida highway, about 90 miles from No. 30, he ran into a tractor-trailer.
More precisely, the rearview mirror of a passing semi hit Landis and kept on going.
His cousin, Jack Riddle, was a few feet away on a bike. He drives trucks for a living and has seen plenty of accidents. He ran over to Landis, bracing to find the worst.
"It doesn't get any more miraculous," Riddle said.
Landis was alive, though he looked as if he'd been run over by a truck. He spent the next four hours in a hospital in Sebring, Fla. Doctors said he'll recover from the hit-and-run, but told him to not dare get on a bike for a couple of weeks.
"It's frustrating," Landis said.
The journey officially started April 3 at Nationals Park, though it really began when Landis began to lose his hearing as a child. His world went completely silent by the fourth grade, and hearing aids didn't help.
When he was 10, Landis had a Cochlear implant. The electronic device doesn't amplify the actual sounds, but it provides a sense of sound to the brain.
The implants have given thousands of people a chance to lead relatively normal lives. The procedure can cost more than $100,000, so thousands more get tangled in insurance and Medicare red tape. Landis became an advocate for those children.
He also developed a fondness for cycling and baseball. Now 24, the Annapolis, Md. native decided to combine his passions and came up with the Jacob's Ride campaign. The goal was to ride to every ballpark, raising awareness and money along the way.
He'd do the pedaling. Riddle would follow in a truck with a spare bike and supplies. What a long, strange, punishing, exhilarating and sometimes smelly trip it has been.
The shortest leg was the congested 9.6 miles between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. The longest was 1,533 miles between Minneapolis and Seattle. That one took 22 days.
Landis crossed the Continental Divide twice. He spent the Fourth of July pedaling from Oakland to San Francisco. He traversed mountains, deserts and plains where headwinds all but froze his bike in place.
Along the way, Landis saw a triple play at Yankees Stadium. He threw out a few first pitches and learned how to ask big leaguers for autographs. The Brewers actually gave him a baseball signed by Ryan Braun. That was before Braun was suspended for PED use, so it wasn't meant as a joke.
Landis gave the ball to Dylan Boehler, a 9-year-old who's had a Cochlear implant. He'd heard about Jacob's Ride and raised $650 going door-to-door in his Milwaukee neighborhood.
Landis met hundreds of kids like Dylan. He visited hospitals and schools and shared his story.
"They have to understand they are different, and they should not focus on trying to fit in and be like everyone else," he wrote on his website. "When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time ignoring the problems I had and not fully developing like I should have during that time.
"I pretended to be like everyone else. I tell kids that they should surround themselves with people that make them feel happy for who they are, instead of pretending to be like everyone else."
For long stretches, Landis and Riddle were surrounded by nobody except Riddle's dog.
Somewhere in the great Southwest it tangled with a skunk. The aroma overwhelmed the 12-foot Penske rental van. Their noses were saved when a pet grooming shop donated a cleaning to the cause.
Jacob's Ride circled back east, through St. Louis and Kansas City and Atlanta. Landis pulled into St. Petersburg for the Rays-Orioles game last Friday night. Tampa Bay beat his favorite team in the first of a four-game sweep.
As bad as the Orioles' weekend was, it couldn't compare to Landis's.
He usually rode alone, but a friend flew down to drive the final leg. That allowed Riddle to pedal along on the spare bike.
"After watching him in the mountains and the cold and the heat and the rain for 172 days, I figured I could do it for three," Riddle said.
They'd gone about 90 miles and were nearing their hotel when a blue Freightliner rumbled past, clipped Landis. The driver never stopped.
Landis spent the past few days in bed, too sore to really move. As much as he'd have liked to ride to Miami, Landis admits he is relieved the really hard part is over.
"I'm kind of happy I don't have to ride the bike anymore," he said.
He pedaled almost 10,600 miles and has raised almost $140,000. If you'd like to donate, go to www.jacobsride.com , or you can donate $10 by texting "JACOB" to 50555.
There is one other disappointment. Landis was supposed to throw out the first pitch at Tuesday night's Marlins-Phillies game. But he's a lefty and landed hard on his left side the other night.
"I can't lift my arm at all," he said. "It's pretty bad."
When he recovers, Landis is thinking about pedaling those final 90 miles, for some cycling closure. For now, he's trying not to let the painful finish obscure all that came before.
He pedaled around America, made it to every Major League ballpark, inspired thousands of people and made it possible for some deaf children to hear.
A hit-and-run driver could never take all that away.