Trip of a lifetime: Dentist to cycle portion of Tour de France route

Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Last week, Dr. Todd Wortham was waking up almost every day at 4:30 a.m. just to check Lance Armstrong's standing on the Tour de France website.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Dr. Todd Wortham sits beneath a framed photo of Lance Armstrong as he talks about plans to cycle a portion of the Tour de France route this month.

Today, assuming all went well with Wortham's travel plans, the Kenai dentist woke up around 6:30 a.m. in Bagnres-de-Luchon, France, to start his second day of a week of cycling ahead of Armstrong and all other 170-plus Tour de France competitors.

While Wortham calls his Trek Travel vacation of cycling in front of the Tour de France a bucket list trip, it means a lot more than just checking off a life goal.

Two years ago, Dave Feeken, Wortham's friend and first root canal patient on the Kenai Peninsula, was supposed to make a trip of his own. Feeken and his son planned a big camping trip on the Sheenjek River, but Feeken got a canker sore and his wife, Glenda, convinced him to let Wortham check it out.

When Wortham examined Feeken, the dentist knew he was looking at cancer.

"It was a pretty tough conversation. From my viewpoint, I was looking at him, and I knew what it was," Wortham recalled. "I told him he had a growth on the side of his tongue and it appeared to be some type of malignancy. It was a tough moment for two people because we both realized there were some significant things going on."

Feeken never smoked or chewed tobacco, according to his wife, and yet he had been diagnosed with mouth cancer. The camping trip would have to wait.

While Wortham didn't conduct any of Feeken's major oral surgeries, Feeken's wife credits Wortham with helping the family through the process.

Wortham made sure Feeken had a special kind of mouth wash and he made sure Feeken got to see the right doctors for treatments.

"If we didn't understand, he was always there to help us interpret everything," Glenda Feeken said. "If you are a patient of Dr. Wortham's, he'll definitely call and check on you and see how you're doing. He's a good communicator, and that goes a long way."

With Wortham's help, Feeken lived 13 months longer than expected, affording him the chance to take the long-awaited camping trip with his son. Wortham was actually going to join the Feekens down the Sheenjeck, but he dropped a filing cabinet on his foot a few days before the trip and wasn't able to attend.

Feeken died in 2008, about 20 days after the camping trip.

"By the time we caught Dave (Feeken) he was way late in the game, but he got to live for 13 months," Glenda Feeken said. "He got to live and do something that was very important to him, It was wonderful. He could have just quit but he didn't."

Despite the doping controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong, his story, too, is about perseverance.

After all, the cyclist won the Tour de France seven consecutive times after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. Armstrong's most recent victory came in 2005.

Armstrong's narrative is what led Wortham into becoming a cycling fan.

Wortham has followed Armstrong in the way football fans follow Peyton Manning or basketball fans followed Michael Jordan. Wortham's dark eyes widen as he recalls tales of the famous 2003 Tour when Armstrong beat German rival Jan Ullrich by barely more than a minute.

Wortham dreams of being in Paris to watch Armstrong win his eighth Tour. Thats partly why Wortham traveled to France for the second-consecutive year on a cycling tour. But this year, Wortham is also dedicating the trip to Feeken.

"You go through life and you meet a lot of people, but you don't meet a lot of people you call great friends," Feeken said. "Glenda and Dave (Feeken) are truly great people and great friends."

Wortham will tote Feeken's pictures around part of stages 15 through 20. Stage 15, Wortham's first day of biking, includes the treacherous Col de Portet d'Aspet descent through the central Pyrenees, where a professional Italian rider crashed and died in the 1995 Tour.

After riding part of each of the last five stages, Wortham and other members of his traveling group will watch the professionals come by. That includes watching the races finish in Paris.

Wortham says its an incredible feeling to be part of the Tour de France and its World Cup atmosphere.

"Seven hundred and fifty thousand people are all lined up with sleepers and all just waiting. Its one big party," Wortham said, remembering last years experience. "I don't feel like I'm part of the race. I feel like I'm part of the atmosphere. It gives me a greater appreciation for how physically demanding the sport is."

The 97th Tour runs from Saturday July 3 to Sunday July 25 and covers 3,642 kilometers. Its made up of one prologue and 20 stages, including six mountain stages. This years route is unique because some stages require riders to navigate cobblestone roads. In the U.S. the race can be seen on the Versus Network.

Andy Schleck, of Luxembourg, led the race after stage 14. Americas leader, Levi Leipheimer, sat in seventh. Italian Alessandro Petacchi led the points category after stage 14.

With Armstrong in 38th position after stage 14, well behind the lead, the odds are against Wortham's dream of seeing an Armstrong victory in person coming true.

But there's still another dream, and that's the possibility of meeting Lance Armstrong, which Wortham thinks he might be able to do after the race ends.

"Id probably be speechless," Wortham said of what might happen if he actually gets to meet Armstrong.

However, Glenda Feeken has an idea of what her husband would say to Armstrong.

"I think he would tell him (Armstrong) that he was an inspiration and how impressed he was with what he did with his life, because I think (Dave Feeken) could appreciate what he went through," Feeken said.

Even if Wortham doesn't get to meet Armstrong, Glenda still knows her husband would appreciate riding with his good friend during such a major event.

"Dave (Feeken) was a big mountain biker, and he was a big fan of Lance Armstrong. He would think that was a really a great thing," Feeken said. "What a great trip."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com



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