Ex-Lion Utley an inspiration to bikers everywhere

Published: May 21, 2009  |  Source: theoaklandpress.com
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26968-smInspiration comes from places you least expect. On Friday, it was in a West Bloomfield sports memorabilia-blazed garage, when former Detroit Lions offensive guard Mike Utley was in town to talk about a bicycle tour fundraiser with proceeds going to help find a cure for paralysis.

When I think of biking, I go to places like the West Bloomfield Woods Trail Network, Proud Lake Recreation Area, Macomb Orchard Trail, or many of the trails in the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan parks in southeast Michigan.

But inspiration comes from places you least expect. So when the 6-foot-6 Utley started talking about the DAM2DAM “Thumbs Up!” Bike Tour, my mind started to wander.

Maybe Nov. 17, 1991 was a day like any other for most of us, but for Utley, now a resident of Orondo, Wash., it was a day he and others will never forget.

While attempting to block during a pass play, Utley injured his spine. He was put on a stretcher and, as the story goes, paralyzed from the waist down. But it was the thumbs up sign that Utley gave the somber Pontiac Silverdome crowd that still resonates today.

“That’s the way life is,” Utley said. “I choose to be here. Life’s a choice and you have the opportunity to make a choice of what you do with your life.”

Inspiration comes from places you least expect it. With friends, family and even strangers attending Friday’s fund-raiser, it was a smiling Mike Utley in a wheelchair and his wife, Dani, who provided unspeakable inspiration through words and action.

The once 330-pound Utley started the Mike Utley Foundation in 1992 as a way to raise funds for spinal-cord injury research, rehabilitation and education. And with that was the creation of the DAM2DAM Bike Tour fund-raiser.

“The No. 1 thing about the funds generated here is research, education and rehabilitation,” Utley said. “I want to get out of this friggin’ chair.”

Photo contributed/TOM WATTS Former Lion Mike Utley and his wife, Dani, are trying to help find a cure for paralysis.
Photo contributed/TOM WATTS Former Lion Mike Utley and his wife, Dani, are trying to help find a cure for paralysis.

Inspiration comes from places you least expect. So later this fall, on Sept. 26, Utley will join in an opportunity to check the gorgeous West Coast scenery while cycling along the Columbia River in eastern Washington.

“It’s a family-oriented event,” Utley said. “Everyone can ride with someone. You raise money from people who want you to ride. When you leave your house, you represent your brother, sister, friend or neighbor. I represent my wife, Dani.”

The DAM2DAM is no ordinary bike ride. It’s a complete cycling experience where participants can ride 25, 50 or 100 miles.

“This event is about making a choice to do something that you didn’t think of doing yesterday,” Utley said. “Do it for the kids who can’t do it.”

While the bike tour is ideal for the professional, it’s also great for recreational cyclists with rest stops along the route.

Registered riders will receive a DAM2DAM “Thumbs Up!” Bike Tour jacket, goodie bag, refreshments at stops, a bikers barbecue at the finish line and the chance to win great prizes.

“Let people know that you are riding to find a cure for paralysis,” Utley said.

“For Mr. Utley, this fundraiser is a way to help fund and start stem cell research,” said Art Jalkanen of West Bloomfield. “He’s trying to help find a cure for this problem. Mike’s a stud.”

To join Mike and Dani Utley in finding a cure for paralysis, each rider over 18 must raise a minimum of $250 in contributions. Registration is $60 before June 15 — Utley wore No. 60 with the Lions — and $75 after.

For more information, call (800) 294-4683 or visit www.mikeutley.org.

By TOM WATTS
Special to The oakland Press