There are two days that drain us of our vitality. They are days over which we have no control. Those days are yesterday and tomorrow. Brian Petras, successful 2010 Sea to Shining Sea bicycle rider with World T.E.A.M. Sports, taught us all to live in the present, each day to the best of our ability – no whining – no pity parties – no excuses. That’s Brian. Brian was diagnosed synovial sarcoma in August of 2009. His right leg was amputated below the knee, and battled this rare cancer for 6 more years.
Thirty years isn’t a long time to have lived. Yet Brian packed more life and adventure into his three decades than most of us will have in three times that many years.
Few people would ever think of setting out to cross the United States on a bicycle; fewer still the number of those who would do it with a prosthetic leg. Few people will ever run the Boston Marathon; fewer still the number of those who do it with a prosthetic leg. Few people push on to get their college degree while taking chemo; fewer still the number of those who would complete their degree after learning their cancer had returned, and the prognosis wasn’t good.
During the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea cross country bicycle ride, Brian did all of these things. On that ride, he nearly severed a finger in the spokes of his bicycle on a snowy day in Utah. He had it stitched up and returned to complete his day’s ride of 80 miles on snowy roads. When asked how he did it, Brian removed his prosthetic leg, held it up, and said, “I’ve had worse.”
Brian had many other great moments other than being a very talented bicycle rider. Playing baseball in the parking lot of a Colorado motel using his prosthetic leg as a bat, Brian hit the ball quite far, and ran to first base on his remaining leg. When he got to first, and asked how he could do that, he simply replied“It’s no big deal. I’ve turned a lot of doubles and triples into singles.”
If he could tell us anything today, he might tell us to stop writing about him and talking too long again making a big deal out of him, but likely it would be in the form of a blessing. I think he’d say something like this from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, “There are dreams of love, life, and adventure in all of us. But, we are also sadly filled with reasons why we shouldn’t try. These reasons seem to protect us, but in truth, they imprison us. They hold life at a distance. Life will be over sooner than we think. If we have bikes to ride and people to love, now is the time.”
In his essay, “God Is No Fool” by Louis Cheney he says this: “People important to you, cross your life, touch it, and move on. Children leave parents; friends leave friends. Acquaintances move on. Friends love and move. We believe in God’s Master Plan for our lives. He moves people in and out of each other’s lives and each leaves his mark on the other. When we examine our lives, we find that we are made up of the bits and pieces of all who ever touched our lives. We are more because of it, and we would be less if they had not touched us.”
The Cherokee Indians have a rich legacy of Native American wisdom in the form of proverbs. One such proverb speaks to us of the things we feel today. It goes like this. “On the day you were born, the world rejoiced and you cried. Live your life so that on the day you die, you rejoice and the world cries.” That’s Brian.
At what point and for how long our lives intersect is far less important than what happens when they do. Every day, We will thank God that the paths of our lives crossed with Brian’s.
Air Force veteran Brian Petras passed on January 23, 2016 in Bloomsbury NJ in the arms of his loving mother. Successfully crossing North America in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2010 Sea to Sea bicycle and hand cycle ride with injured veterans, Brian served as ride mechanic for the non-profit organization’s 2014 CanAm Veterans’ Challenge from Ottawa, Ontario to Washington, DC. Serving numerous overseas tours with the Air Force, Brian retired in July, 2012 after eight years with the service.
Four days before passing, Brian received his diploma from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Integrated Studies and a minor in Biology. He said to his mother, “just one more thing for you to brag about mom”. Brian was always humble and kind and will always be an inspiration to everyone.
By: Mike Claver, W.O.R.L.D. Team Sports with additional words by Susan Petras, Brian’s Mom, and Kathy McKenzie, Brian’s Aunt.
Photograph by Van Brinson.