Going the distance, Conference minister embraces competition
Written by Gregg Brekke
December 2008 - January 2009

Ohio Conference Minister the Rev. Bob Molsberry competes in the 2008 Wright-Patterson Air Force Base marathon. Photo furnished.
Cycling back from near-tragedy

The marathon, that 26.2 mile test of endurance and will, continues to inspire athletes of all levels. From its historic roots in ancient Greece, to individuals meeting life-long fitness goals, the marathon stands as an icon of sporting achievement.

A distinct addition to modern marathons has been the inclusion of wheelchair and hand cycling racers. Those who have participated or attended marathons will surely have seen these athletes — normally far ahead of their two-legged race companions.

Ohio Conference Minister, the Rev. Bob Molsberry, is one such athlete. He competed in 2008 as a hand cyclist at both the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Columbus marathons in Ohio. His times of 1:42:03, for third place at Wright-Patterson, and 1:47:04, for second place in Columbus, place him among the top hand cyclists in the region.

Molsberry's return to competition has evolved over the last 11 years. In 1997, a hit-and-run bicycling accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. The accident occurred as he was returning home from a Memorial Day weekend training ride when what witnesses say was a drunk driver slammed into Molsberry on his bike.

Molsberry has no recollection of the accident, the trip to the hospital or the MedEvac helicopter flight to Des Moines. The initial days and weeks after the crash were tenuous. Given the severity of his blood loss and internal injuries, doctors initially gave him a one percent chance of survival. He spent the next six weeks in a coma.

"It was touch and go," says Molsberry of this time. "My family didn't know if I would survive, or if I did, what would be left of me. There were head injuries, along with the internal injuries, and no one was certain of what life would be like for me if I came out of the coma."

Molsberry did revive, and it was only then that doctors diagnosed his spinal injuries and paralysis. He admits that there was a moment of doubt and depression upon learning that his formerly active lifestyle would be forever altered. But Molsberry, ever the competitor, didn't linger on his misfortune for long.

"One of the turning points of my physical therapy was when they brought me down to the recreation room — there was an old hand cycle. They figured out how to put me on it and I started cranking down the hallway of the hospital," Molsberry recalled. "I felt the wind on my face and I decided right there and then that life was going to happen again."

Spending the last two months of his nearly four-month hospital stay in rehabilitation, Molsberry learned how to accommodate his injuries and establish new expectations for mobility.

"It was a really long struggle," says Molsberry of his year-long transition out of the hospital and back into full-time ministry at UCC-Congregational in Grinnell, Iowa. "I didn't feel like the same person, and I didn't know how folks regarded me."

He found commonality among other athletes with disabilities. Another injured cyclist, who Molsberry knew from the hospital, had purchased a high-end hand cycle. He invited Molsberry to try it and he was hooked. "I loved it and immediately ordered one for myself," says Molsberry.

That same year, 1998, he returned to ride a summertime traditional group ride called RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). On this first outing as a hand cyclist he rode half the daily 50-70 miles with his children and spent each evening at the day's host community. Molsberry has completed this eight-day ride 10 times since, each time cycling the entire distance, which averages 470 miles.

Training for, and competing in, eight marathons and numerous triathlons since his accident, Molsberry believes he is in the best shape of his life.

"Returning to being an athlete has really saved my life," says Molsberry. "When I came to Ohio [as Conference Minister], I thought I'd be too busy to continue in competition. But exactly the opposite has happened. The busier I get the more I need it to have a sense of normalcy."

For others facing the challenges of a disability he says, "You can't take the dead-end [of a disability] as a final answer. Don't give up, because there are other ways to still be yourself. In order for me to be alive spiritually, as well as physically, I need to be active."

Molsberry's memoir about his return to ministry and athletics after the accident, "Blindsided by Grace," is available from Augsburg Fortress Press. 

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