I made a new friend and rode my bicycle this past week. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, not another story about the bicycle.”

Nope. Not this time. The bicycle is just the vehicle.

Here’s the story: This new friend was a good rider but unsure of his ability. He lives in a flat area so the hills around here intimidated him. He married a Tennessee girl but had only visited and had never brought a bike. Three years ago he had made a commitment that he was going to get fit. So he bought a bike. And started riding.

Barrell chested with a huge smile, he is quite fit. But he definitely isn’t one of the 130 pound bikers that can zoom uphill. He wasn’t too sure of his ability. It was part of my job to help him understand that he was totally capable of doing the rides that we had planned. I assured him that if he paced himself, recovered when he could, and refused to quit he would be fine.

Did I mention that he was about to climb Butterfly Gap Road to Top of the World? Yeah. That.

Never been up that road? It’s steep. And then toward the end, it gets even steeper. When it levels out and you think the climb is over, you get another steep section.

He made it with a smile on his face but that’s just where this story begins. You see, this fellow was from the Middle East. From one of those countries where poverty is a way of life. Where women can’t get an education, hold a job or drive a car. Where the law is whatever one man might decide it is and punishment can be swift and deadly. Where oppression is constant and children might be used as human bombs. That world.

While he was still a small child, his family decided to try and escape all that. He was just a child but he remembers it well. Days of walking, hiding, afraid to even beg for food because of the fear of getting caught. Hiding in a hole for eight straight hours. He couldn’t whimper or cry lest he reveal his family’s position. A hole in the desert where he could have died.

Crossing into a country that didn’t want him. More walking but now they could beg for food. A family with small children sleeping anywhere they could find. For days on end. Threatened repeatedly by locals that hated him because of where he was from.

Days turned into weeks and at every border crossing, the family was scrutinized, chastised. Still having to beg for food and with everything they owned already bartered away for money to pay the bribes that those border crossings required, they were always hungry. And dirty. With but a few possessions they carried on their backs.

Finally, they got far enough to gain a certain amount of acceptance. A country that gave them just a whisper of a chance. Dad found work. They lived in a tent for a while. They were able to eat regularly.

But they had this dream. A dream of coming to America. The Land of Opportunity. Where freedom and equality ruled the land. Where you didn’t get beaten, maimed, or killed because of your religious beliefs.

So they lived a life of frugality that you and I would consider unfathomable. And they got enough money to come to America. They got jobs, found a place to live. Were able to go to school. Quietly built a life.

The rest of the story is still being written but I can tell you that that boy hiding in the bushes as his family escaped sheer hell is now a successful businessman with a lovely wife and two children. Manifesting that American dream. As far as I’m concerned, climbing Butterfly Gap on a bicycle is nothing.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email joeblackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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