From bad injury in Philly to colossal achievement in the U.S.

Posted: August 19, 2011

Doug Markgraf was riding into Philadelphia when a hit-and-run driver left him for dead at 55th Street and Lancaster Avenue. After 14 days in a coma, he awoke with a few broken bones, a brain injury, and an incredible, intense, single desire.

"If I can ever ride a bike again," he said to himself, "I'm going to ride as far as I can."

It took five years - the first year recovering from his accident, the next four finishing school at Drexel University and getting a job - but this summer, Markgraf, 25, who grew up in Ambler, did what he had promised himself. He rode as far as he could, across the country.

After 53 days and 3,200 miles, last night he slept in his own bed in East Falls.

And ate a cheesesteak. And inhaled a Slurpee. And met five friends along the Schuylkill River Trail at Valley Forge in the late afternoon who escorted him the last 20 miles home.

This has been the trip of a lifetime. He started in San Francisco, carried about 75 pounds of gear - tent, sleeping bag, water, food - and crested three mountain ranges. On his last summit, along Route 30 in Pennsylvania, he pedaled the last quarter-mile with just one leg, showboating, because he could. He was fit enough, and his mother was watching. He changed 15 flat tires, and slept in the homes of people he met along the way or pitched his tent in their front yards.

He carried five helmets on the back of his bike, as conversation starters. He is convinced that wearing a helmet saved his life on May 31, 2006, and he shared that message across America. His mission all along was to prove to the world and himself that people can recover from brain injuries, and he stopped and spoke at about 15 hospitals and rehab centers along the way.

"The impetus for the trip is, honestly, so I can prove to myself that I can do this kind of outrageous journey, but through the process prove to everyone else who is in my footsteps that they can do it, too," he said. "We all can do amazing things." He said the trip taught him how to become even more of a leader, and even more friendly than he was. "I can make new friends anywhere I go," he said.

Markgraf said he would spend the rest of his life recovering from the brain injury. He still has short-term memory loss. "Don't ask me where I was this morning," he said. "I have to look it up on my phone."

"The biggest thing I'm having problems with now," he added, "is mental fatigue. It's hard to think very hard for a long time."

Even though he's home, he's not done yet. On Friday, he's going to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to talk to families of patients in comas in the intensive care unit, and then will meet with a team of researchers working on brain injuries. There is a fund-raiser for the Raisin Hope Foundation in his honor from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Murphy's Irish Saloon in East Falls. And Sunday, with his parents, Jen and Dan, and a few friends, he will bike across his 11th state, New Jersey, to Toms River, where he hopes to speak to patients and families at one last rehab center.

Markfraf is an engineering teacher at the Universal Institute Charter School in South Philadelphia, and he will be there Monday, setting up his classroom for the coming year. Truly, no rest for the weary. He'll be riding to work, but without 75 pounds of gear. And he'll be wearing a helmet.


Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639, mvitez@phillynews.com, or on twitter @michaelvitez.

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