Bob Mortimer: Propelled by inspiration, attitude

Pedaling up a mountain is no easy task for the average cyclist, but for Gig Harbor resident Bob Mortimer, it’s particularly trying.

  • Tuesday, May 20, 2008 3:13pm
  • News

Gig Harbor resident and inspirational speaker Bob Mortimer

Survivor and family on national ride

Pedaling up a mountain is no easy task for the average cyclist, but for Gig Harbor resident Bob Mortimer, it’s particularly trying.

Sitting on his handcycle, a three-wheeled vehicle designed for someone with two arms, Mortimer only has one to do the job.

“Mountains are very challenging for me with only one arm, and I don’t have the option of getting off and walking,” he said.

But the triple-amputee said he’ll probably have dozens of them to face leading his family across the country on their bicycles. He says he will tackle each one with the same attitude that has helped him thrive for decades despite his handicap.

“I expect there will be days that I will ache very much, but I know that when you get to the top of those mountains the joy far outweighs the pain of getting there,” Mortimer said.

The inspirational speaker left Gig Harbor on handcycle Saturday with his wife, Darla, 47, and children Nicole, 19, Grant, 15, and Chanel, 10, behind on their bikes for a ride that won’t end until they reach the Statue of Liberty. They plan to ride the 3,900 miles to New York City over the next four months, stopping along their way to spread a message across the nation that Mortimer has passionately taught for years — a message of hope.

“It’s a simple message,” Mortimer said two days before his departure. “Twenty-seven years ago, I decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and when I began to follow him, my life changed. Now I’m going to bike across the United States.”

His story starts before that, though, in Olympia in 1976.

A 21-year-old Mortimer and his brother, Tom, were driving home from a party one night when Tom sped around a corner and hit a power pole, sending the vehicle down an embankment. The two weren’t injured, but when they walked back up the road in the dark, Mortimer walked into some downed power lines from the pole they struck.

The 12,500 volts of electricity through his body were devastating. Six months and 12 surgeries later, the doctors at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle had amputated his left arm and both his legs.

“I would get out of the hospital and go back to the same life that brought me there, back to the partying, back to the drinking,” Mortimer said. “I later met a strong friend who would help me realize that I had a handicap that was larger than my limbs.”

That strong friend was Darla Hollis, who would later become his wife. She took him to church, he said, where he found a new source of hope in Jesus Christ.

His own experience has provided him with the message he now shares today. Not long after he and Darla got married in 1981, friends started asking him to speak at churches and other events. The couple started Bob Mortimer Motivational Ministries in 1989, and he has been speaking professionally ever since.

“Our message is you can have hope in Christ, and if you have that and put a little bit of your courage with it you can overcome anything,” he said.

And what better way to show that than to pedal across the country with one arm? Mortimer said that was his idea behind the “Hope and Courage” ride. He hopes the undertaking will help inspire people as he was inspired.

But it won’t be easy, he said — not for him or his family.

“They’re looking forward to it, but the ride will be hard for them also,” he said. “Just because they have two legs won’t make it easy. But I know it’s gonna be one of the highlights of their lives.”

The family plans to ride about 40 miles a day. Young Chanel will ride as much of that as she can. They will travel with a two-person support team — Mortimer’s sister, Jeanne Oesch of Puyallup, and her husband, Don — who will drive an RV for the family to sleep in.

Mortimer estimates the project will cost about $35,000. The family has been raising money for months, but Mortimer said they’ll have to rely on support along the way to complete their fundraising.

“We have a confidence that the need will be met,” he said. “We appreciate people giving what they can to help us take this message.”

The family plans to arrive at the Statue of Liberty on Sept. 11, a date Mortimer says helped show America’s hope and courage.

“We’ve been hit by a lot of things in history, but we’re courageous people,” he said. “America’s a strong nation. September 11 was tragic, but it was not enough to beat America.”

The Mortimers’ first stop on their journey was in Kent. The inspirational speaker shared his message with Riverview Community Church at morning services Sunday. Pastor Brett Hollis at the church is Mortimer’s nephew, and he said he’s confident the man will reach many with his powerful message.

“I support everything he’s doing,” Hollis said. “I think his lifestyle alone effectively shows the message he’s trying to spread. Here he is with one arm, and he still does everything on his own and with such a great attitude. The cool thing about Bob is that he can capture the attention of any audience, now matter what age group.”

For more information or to donate to the family’s journey fund, visit www.hcjourney.org.

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or dmooney@reporternewspapers.com.

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