'It's the way I live': Cycling remains

a constant in Tim Phlypo's life,

despite challenges

Posted Online: April 13, 2014, 10:40 am

A dichotomy is a split into exactly two non-overlapping parts. In that regard, it's probably safe to say Tim Phlypo is something of a dichotomy.

The 62-year-old endured three hip replacements. He also has bicycled more than 300,000 miles and might be the only 6,000-plus-mile-a-year cyclist who uses a cane when he's out and about.

To the Geneseo native, it's just a way of life.

"I love it," Mr. Phlypo said of cycling. "I couldn't stay away from it if I had to. It's the way I live."

He opened the Let's Ride Bike Shop in Silvis in 2010, but his story with cycling started in 1959. When he was 7, he jumped off a roof and landed on a cement sidewalk, pinching the artery that supplies blood to the bone ball of his hip socket.

"There was no surgery for what happened," Mr. Phlypo said. "I was on crutches with my leg in a sling for three and a half years. The kids at school thought I had polio and that I was contagious."

The bone that makes up the ball in the hip socket essentially dies and turns into a kind of liquid, which allows pressure from the heart to reopen the pinched artery -- while the patient keeps weight off the bone. But with the hip moving, the bone hardens and reforms into the ball, and the patient should be able to walk again.

"They didn't tell me how much it would itch as it was healing, and the only way I could make it feel better was to put weight on it," Mr. Phlypo said. "So my hip didn't quite form back into a perfect ball."

When he was 10, he was able to get off the crutches, and the doctor told him the joint didn't heal perfectly.

"He told me to go out and have as much fun as I could before I ended up in a wheelchair," Mr. Phlypo said. "That's a tough thing for a 10-year-old to hear, but that's exactly what I did."

He joined the gymnastics team, played baseball, swam and started running.

"When my doctor found out I was running, and how much I was running, he said I had to quit," Mr. Phlypo said. "He told me to try bicycling and I did that and swam and within a few months, I quit swimming."

Bicycling was it. He bought his first bike, a 1972 Schwinn LeTour, and started riding around Geneseo, then started riding to Prophetstown. He made friends with some bicycle racers in Moline and started training with them. "I was the only guy there who didn't shave his legs.

"I can remember saying, 'I ride more every week than three or four of these guys, why can't I keep up?' and (they) told me it was my bike," Mr. Phlypo said. They pulled his trusty Schwinn apart and showed him stamped parts and compared them to the machined, polished parts of a race bike.

He said the next week he bought a 1977 Raleigh Competition, and still has it. "I figure I have about 150,000 miles on that bike."

In the meantime, science came up with a viable hip replacement and Mr. Phlypo was a candidate. Doctors wanted to wait until he was 26 to ensure he had stopped growing.

"The procedure was to skim the ball off and set a steel ball into a steel cap in my pelvis, and it meant six months in the hospital and another six months in bed and relearning how to walk," he said. "The thought of it terrified me."

He met a doctor in Chicago who had a different, newer procedure, one that wouldn't mean a year-long recovery. His first hip replacement surgery in 1979 went well. He was supposed to be in recovery for up to six weeks, but by the eighth night, the doctor released him.

"(The doctor) was pretty amazed, but I was in great health," Mr. Phlypo said. "He told me my recovery was 'a testament to my lifestyle.'"

It would be a phrase he would hear again and again.

He was working as a machinist at IH, but in 1983 things started getting tough for the company and he received his indefinite leave notice. He went to work for Huffy, building bikes for stores. They had a job opening in Atlanta and he moved there.

"I worked for a little mom-and-pop bike shop on Saturdays and learned an awful lot from him," Mr. Phlypo said. "When he retired, I tried to buy it, but it didn't work out."

He was riding nearly 10,000 miles a year and quit Huffy to manage the bike shop in a large box store, and it wasn't long before he was an assistant buyer for the chain. It was 1989 when Case called him back.

He got 15 years out of that first hip. His doctor warned him about wearing the hip out early. At that time, hip replacement surgery only could be done twice because the procedure required removing bone from the pelvic girdle, weakening it.

"I slowly kept adding miles, to the point I hated talking to the doctor," he said. "I never lied to him and when he would ask, I would tell him the truth. I think in the ninth year, I rode 8,000 miles, and he was looking at the X-ray and saw a fracture in the cement and that was it. He said 'no more,' but I didn't listen.

"I rode 9,000 miles the next year, and when they took X-rays, they found the fracture had sealed up with new bone."

Finally though, the glue failed. He was going to a doctor in Davenport, and woke up one morning and fell out of bed in a lot of pain. The socket had shifted and they wanted to do surgery right away.

"I was pretty down because I was just 43 and I was going in for my second hip replacement," he said. "That was pretty much it, I thought. If I fell on the ice or got hit by a car, I was going to end up in a wheelchair anyway and that's when the doctor told me they had a new procedure and new technology that didn't require cutting into the bone and I was a new man. I could have all the hip replacements I needed."

His recovery was quick and again, his doctor credited his lifestyle for the rapid rebound. But this time, he faced another problem. He got hepatitis C from his first surgery, which they didn't find in his blood work until 1998.

"My doctors were pretty worried, but I didn't have any symptoms and I felt fine," Mr. Phlypo said. "They did a bunch of tests and found out I didn't have any liver damage and they were kind of freaked out because I had hepatitis C for almost 19 years; I should have been at about 12 or 18 percent liver function, but I didn't have any damage."

He started Ribavirin, a new drug to treat it, and started self-injecting chemotherapy for 48 weeks. Mr. Phlypo said those were some of the toughest, darkest days of his life. "I've got some terrible memories from that time. Terrible."

Working at the factory wasn't the same, and he started a bike shop at his home in Geneseo. Then in 1998, he relocated to the Ridgewood Shopping mall in East Moline as business boomed.

"Things were going great; then one day I thought I was having a heart attack," he said. "I went to the doctors and they did a bunch of tests, told me my heart was fine, but wanted to know what my day was like.

"So I told them. 'I get up at 3 a.m., write checks, order parts, do inventory, go to work by 5 a.m., work until 2 p.m., then work at the shop until 10:30 p.m. or so. I go home, spend some time with the kids, and then work in the basement until midnight or so, and then get up and do it again."

The doctor told him his organs were failing because of exhaustion and that if he kept his schedule up, he would be dead within 180 days.

"They told me to quit the bike shop and get some sleep or quit Case and get some sleep," he said. "I shut the shop down in 2000 and six weeks later Case announced they were closing the plant."

He started Let's Ride in 2010, after retiring from Case and picking up another job he didn't much care for.

"It was Loree's (his wife's) idea," he said. "I was unhappy doing what I was doing, I had owned the other bike shop. She said, 'We've got all the tools out in the garage; that's when you're happiest.'

"Working on bikes is like therapy for me. People leave bikes against the garage door with notes taped to them, asking for me to fix them, and I thought, 'Why not?' Sometimes, it just takes someone outside to see things clearly."

In November 2011, he went in for his third hip replacement. "We waited until it was off-season, but Loree wanted me to get it done," he said.

"I told him, this time, let's walk in (to the hospital) on your own two feet," she said. "At 60 years old, the nurse told me he had a (blood pressure) rate of 112 over 68 and a resting heart rate of 52 beats per minute. On a follow-up check-up, the doctor asked when he planned on getting back on his bicycle."

"There was kind of a lull in the room," he said. "The doctor said, 'By this quiet, I'm guessing you are already back on the bike?' I had been riding about two weeks already."

There have been some other bumps in the road. In 2006, he had to have heart surgery for an irregular heartbeat, and he recently was diagnosed with, and received radiation treatment for, prostate cancer. He takes it all in stride.

"I've had some tough days, gone through some real pain," he said. "This isn't going to beat me."

"I love cycling, I love what it does for me," Mr. Phlypo said. "I love that I can go for a 20-mile ride and feel completely recharged. I love getting people into this sport. I show them how to do adjustments on their bike, how to fix tires, empower them to keep going, that if something breaks they can fix it. I've got 41 years of experience, and I've never had to walk home."

Walking, it turns out, is bad for him.

Let's Ride
Let's Ride bicycle shop is at 89 9th St., Silvis, or you can find them on the Internet at letsrideinc.com or find them on Facebook.

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Photos Heading
Photo: Todd Welvaert/twelvaert@qconline.com
Tim Phlypo, 62, of Geneseo, stands at the repair stand of Let's Ride bicycle shop in Silvis on Wednesday. Mr. Phlypo has had three hip replacements and has ridden his bicycle more than 300,000 miles.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert/twelvaert@qconline.com
Tim Phlypo, of Geneseo, has withstood several health challenges and credits his bike-riding lifestyle as keeping him in top shape.
More photos from this shoot


Store Location:

Let's Ride Inc.
89 9th St. 
Silvis, IL 61282

Phone: 309-752-9850


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