Bicyclist Jacob Landis made a promise to himself when he started his cross-country journey to raise funds and awareness of the benefits of cochlear implants.
He would combine his love of baseball and cycling and visit each major league ballpark in the nation.
On Tuesday, a banged-up and bruised Landis, 24, walked his bike across the finish line at Marlins Park, ending a 175-day, nearly 11,000 mile journey.
It was during the last leg of his trip that a crash almost derailed his dream. On Saturday evening, on U.S. Highway 27 South, just outside of Sebring, a tractor-trailer clipped him four miles from his hotel, sending him sprawling to the pavement, knocked unconscious. He suffered a broken nose, fractured facial bones, a chipped tooth and injuries to his left arm.
The trucker fled.
Luckily, his cousin, Jack Riddle, 32, who was his support van driver, had chosen to ride along with him that day, and was there to help.
Landis, a cook at a Whole Foods Market in Annapolis, Maryland, doesn’t remember the crash, likely caused by the truck’s side-view mirror striking him. He regained consciousness in Florida Hospital Heartland in Sebring.
“I’m glad it happened at the end, instead of in the beginning, because I was able to ride 10,666 miles and raise $130,000,” Landis said on Tuesday, during an interview before a party in his honor at the North Miami Whole Foods.
Starting off from his Annapolis hometown on April 3, Landis vowed to ride to all 30 major league ballparks nationwide. He completed the journey Tuesday, riding into Miami in his support van, and was honored at the Marlins stadium during a pre-game ceremony, amid cheers and raves from the crowd.
During nearly six months, he rode from the East Coast to the West Coast, then to the Southeast.
“I could not have made it over the mountains without the idea of the cause,” said Landis, who has a cochlear implant, which restores hearing to those with severe hearing loss. “When you’re pedaling 100 miles a day, you have to find something from within. I surprised myself with this ride.”
Deaf by the age of 10, Landis said having a cochlear implant “gave him a really great fresh start at life.”
And the best part of the bike ride, he said, was seeing the faces of the kids with cochlear implants at the baseball stadiums, especially those who had never met anyone before who had an implanted device. He said their parents would say, ‘See, he has one too; you’re not different.’”
The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control show that 1.4 per 1,000 babies screened in the United States have hearing loss. About 3,000 children and adults receive cochlear implants each year nationwide, said Collin Griffin, clinical specialist for Advanced Bionics, the company which makes Landis’s implant. Many others don’t have access to doctors or insurance to cover the costly surgery.
A small, complex electronic device, the implant bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear and delivers electronic impulses to the auditory nerve that sends information to the brain.
A cochlear implant restores enough hearing to allow someone to speak and hear spoken language, said Dr. Fred Telischi, a cochlear implant surgeon and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Miami.