October 4, 2008

'Raisin' riders pedal to raise hope, money

By Jamie Jones

Dalton native Saul Raisin has gone from “Raisin hell” on the professional cycling circuit to “Raisin hope” for people with traumatic brain injuries.

The second annual Raisin Hope Foundation charity weekend kicked off Saturday at Heritage Point Park with a group cycling up Fort Mountain in Murray County. Events for the foundation, which raises money to support brain injury research, continue today with a 5K run/walk and cycling events.

About 225 cyclists — including eight-time Australian Pro Time Trial champion Nathan O’Neill — participated in the 15-, 35-, 50- and 62-mile rides on Saturday. Jim Raisin, Saul Raisin’s father, said participation was down from last year’s inaugural event, but attributed the drop to higher gas prices and the economy. Through Saturday afternoon, he said the foundation had raised about $30,000 and added that money was coming in.

“It was a wonderful day,” Saul Raisin said. “To see all the survivors of traumatic brain injuries out there riding was great. It really represents the entire mission of the foundation. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

Proceeds from the Raisin Hope Foundation benefit Camp Twin Lakes, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, National Brain Injury Information Center, the Shepherd Center and Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation. In addition to raising money to support brain injury research, the Raisin Hope Foundation connects individuals whose lives have been affected by a brain injury with support and information and promotes public awareness of people with disability as a result of brain injury.

Raisin, a Dalton High School graduate, was one of the rising stars on the international cycling circuit as a professional for French-based racing team Credit Agricole. He competed in the Tour de Georgia in 2003 and 2005, earning the “Best Young Rider” during his first entry in the race. Before he competed in the Dalton leg of the Tour in 2003, Dalton Mayor Ray Elrod presented Raisin a key to the city.

His world came crashing down in 2006.

A life-threatening cycling accident during the first stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe race in France left Raisin in a coma. He had suffered substantial body damage and a traumatic brain injury. Doctors weren’t sure he would survive, much less be able to ride a bicycle again. After months of rehabilitation, Raisin was able to regain his motor skills. But the injury prevented him from competing professionally.

“When he had his accident, they said he wasn’t going to be able to walk,” Jim Raisin said. “For him to be out riding and living life like this. When his accident happened, I was just hoping he’d be able to wake up and talk to me. Everything from being able to walk, feed himself and talk with some sense is a bonus.”

David McDaniel, an amateur rider for the Chattanooga-based Krystal team, took up road racing about two years and began following Saul Raisin’s career. McDaniel said his recovery has been an inspiration to people around the world.

“His story is phenomenal for him being able to recover so quickly,” McDaniel said shortly after completing the morning bicycle ride. “I think it’s a great charity, especially for anyone who has been in an auto accident or athletic accident, the more they can learn about rehabilitation and support for brain injury research is great.”

The competitive juices are still flowing for Saul Raisin. He plans to compete in the world’s top triathlon, the Ironman event in Hawaii and is also training for the New York City Marathon in November. He said the community support for the Raisin Hope Foundation and the weekend’s events is overwhelming. The group plans to hold another fundraiser next year “and for many years to come,” he said.

On Saturday, Saul Raisin had a full day. Up in the early morning to prepare for the charity bicycle ride. Then, the 60-plus mile ride. Autographs and pictures. An evening reception at the Dalton Depot wrapped up the day.

The Raisin Hope Foundation (www.raisinhope.org) weekend continues today. The “Tour the Town” 5K run/walk in downtown Dalton begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by the 1K bicycle race at 9 a.m. The route follows a closed loop through downtown and is open to everyone from beginners to professional riders. There will also be an expo, entertainment and food.

Looks like today will be another busy one for Saul.