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Sometimes you have to shift: Ivan Agard

Updated: Oct 2, 2018

When a health diagnosis that resulted in being put on dialysis at the young age of 30 totally changed East New York resident Ivan's lifestyle, he turned to cycling to help him manage the physical and emotional side effects of his new disease management. Now he aspires to get others active before its too late. He rides an 11 speed, Endurance road bike.

Ivan laughs all the time, cycles whenever practical, and is always on the lookout for longer more exciting rides to take on with friends. Between working at one dialysis center and receiving his own 4 hour treatments 3 times a week, he's got aspirations to maybe race one day, and definitely to complete a full century ride (100 consequetive miles). It's an accomplishment a few of his bike fiends have already made, and the good company motivates him to "join the club."

Some people are lone wolves on bike, but Ivan actually enjoys the comradery of bike friends. Changing up friend groups, he says, was actually one of the many unexpected but necessary lifestyle changes he had to make five years ago when his doctors told him that he'd ignored warnings about managing his hereditary high blood pressure too long. -- He'd reached the point where his kidneys had lost significant function, and he would have to permanently go on dialysis. (Dialysis a process that uses a machine that physically pulls out, cleans, then replaces the blood in a person's body when their kidney's can no longer adequately do the job themselves.)

As he now continually looks toward making more healthy lifestyle choices for himself, Ivan isn't afraid to point to himself as a cautionary tale: Now 36, at age 25 his doctorswarned him that he needed to manage his disease with healthier eating, weight loss, and medication. But instead, he chose to continue partying - complete alcohol consumption, eating fast food, and getting inadequate rest. And at age 31, his kidneys had finally become irreparably damaged.

It was a bummer to know he'd created this situation. It was a bummer to now have to urgently learn this new list of things he could or couldnt eat without endangering himself. It was a bummer realize that those restrictions and the minimum 12 hours of dialysis he has to go through every week was making it harder and harder to stay in touch with friends who didn't share his restrictions. "I tell people all the time," Ivan says, "if they have the chance not to go on dialysis, listen to your doctor. Do everything you can to stay off dialysis."

Because change is hard. And depression is real.

Ivan and one of his first groups of bike friends at the Five Boro Bike Tour.

At the time he began dialysis treatment, Ivan worked at a family shelter where he had a friendly relationshhip with one of the residents. Casually he'd let the man know about his changing situation. "The guy had a bike - a old blue Panasonic - and just said, take it." It became Ivan's first adult bike since last riding freestyle bikes (BMX bikes) as a kid. And this was the beginning of a good thing.

Ivan simultaneously describes the virtuous cycle of being active, cycling, and his own experience:

"When you ride a bike it gives you energy. You can feel yourself feeling better, and that helps you [deal with having to go to] dialysis. Plus, then you start noticing you start losing a little weight. And that's good because the way dialysis works is [they set the machine] according to your [weight]. So not carrying excess weight is a good thing."

If dialysis sounds like drastic, yes, it can be. Depending on how you have managed your diet, fluid intake (a crucial step for people with kidney illnesses), and rest between treatments, being hooked up to the machine can cause painful cramping or even cause a person to faint.

But for Ivan, things once again return to a virtuous cycle -- He doesn't want to experience these effects during his dialysis sessions such that he is too weak or tired to ride the next day. Or even the same evening. So he is more conscious about his nutrition for both dialysis and biking sake. "And when your [old] friends can see the change in you, that's [also] a great feeling."

Ivan and his first adult bike, the blue Panasonic.

Now two bikes later, aside from continuing to check trips off his own bicycling bucket list ( his bike friends unexpectedly encouraged him to make his first international trip for a bike ride in Montreal last year), Ivan feels himself gravitating more and more into being a open advocate for people on dialysis to adopt bicycling. He wants to share the good things he's found and open their eyes to how it can help them manage their disease.

He's been working at nurturing the interest of at least one friend at the dialysis center by encouraging them to recognize they can a find riding partner by meeting more East Brooklyn cyclists at the local the Brown Bike Girl community rides. He also recently attended The Brown Bike Girl's "Cycling Make Cents" workshop to arm himself with convincing talking points about how bikes are an investment in both your health and your wallet.

Maybe one day we'll see a East Brooklyn dialysis cycling group courtesy of the efforts of Mr. Agard. "It's not even just people with my condition. I want anybody with an illness to recognize what cycling can do for them."

Alright Mr. Agard! Good luck!

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