FORT WORTH -- Rob Davis saw the consequences of an unhealthy heart when he was 4 years old. He crawled into his 29-year-old mother's bed one morning and found her struggling to breathe.He called his grandparents and an ambulance came. A short time later, his mother was dead from a pulmonary embolism and stroke.Sixteen years later, he saw the consequences again. His father, only 42, suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep.Davis grieved for his parents, but a nagging worry lingered over the next decade, a time when he married and had children of his own.Genetics are a strong predictor of heart disease."I was pretty much hosed," said Davis, now 32.His family heart history is one reason the Burleson man plans to bicycle across the U.S. next year to raise money for the American Heart Association and awareness for lifestyles that promote healthy hearts.Davis plans to start the trek near San Diego and end it 50 to 60 days later in Maine.He says he is not riding just for his own heart; Davis is a nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. He hopes to help spare other families from losing loved ones."I don't want to see what happened to me as a kid happen to other kids," he said. "I also don't want it to happen to my kids."Davis won't make the trip alone. After mulling over the idea, he finally approached his wife, Liriane, also a nurse for Texas Health, and told her he wanted to ride cross-country. He expected to hear, "Sure, have fun and I'll see you in two months."Instead, she told him it sounded good and made a suggestion:"Let's get an RV and take the kids."Lifestyle decisionsDavis had his own heart issues as a child. Born with a hole between two heart chambers, he spent the first few months of his life in a hospital ICU. He saw a cardiologist until he was 8, when the hole naturally healed.The hole was a defect that Davis couldn't control. But a message he hopes to convey during his trip is that people can improve their heart health through lifestyle changes.Despite his family history and his healthcare job, Davis wasn't always a healthy adult. A couple of years ago, overweight and on the brink of being prescribed blood pressure medication, he worried that he was heading down a predictable path.His parents were both overweight and had unhealthful diets."I realized I could change things," he said. "I can control my blood pressure and I can exercise and give myself the best chance possible."Davis has climbed the highest peaks in Texas and New Mexico. He altered his diet; red meat is reserved for special occasions, and french fries are now a rare treat. He shed 20 pounds.At his wife's suggestion, he trained with her for a triathlon. After the first one, he went home exhausted and took a nap. But he woke up feeling surprisingly good."I was hooked," he said. "I started looking for the next challenge."Davis found running boring and figured he could swim only so far. He turned to cycling and eventually came up with the idea to go cross-country. He has established an account with the American Heart Association for people to make donations.His initial goal is $3,000, and all the money will go to the association, he said.An 'awesome' journeyDavis has about 14 months to train. Right now, he rides three times a week -- two 20-mile rides and one 30-mile ride. He will gradually increase the distance. The preliminary route he has chosen for the trip is 3,700 miles.He is saving his vacation time and will take some unpaid leave. He has communicated with a man from England who made a similar trip and offered advice.He and Liriane considered renting a recreational vehicle, but that would cost about $10,000. They plan to buy one used. The RV will serve as a support vehicle and temporary home for his wife and their daughter, 5, and son, 11/2.Davis plans to ride no more than 90 to 100 miles per day and take days off if necessary, Liriane Davis said."I think it will be awesome for the children to see the country," she said. "We won't be driving 10 mph behind him; we'll drive ahead to the next town and the kids can play and explore."They'll load the RV with extra bike parts; Davis expects about a dozen flats along the way. They'll also take medical supplies and make arrangements to reach a physician by phone if needed.Davis said he's more concerned with distance than time. But, out of curiosity, he checked cross-country cycling in Guinness World Records.Someone did it in eight days."I can safely say I will not be breaking that," he said.Alex Branch, 817-390-7689Twitter: @albranch1
Rob Davis has started a blog called Coast to Coast for Heart Health at coast2coastheart.blogspot.com.
He has established an account with the American Heart Association for donations at amha.convio.net/site/TR?px=3429313&fr_id=1150&pg=personal