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After going blind with cancer, the former UCLA athlete finds a new direction in the tandem cycling club.

Mark Green says in his 22 years as a football coach at Mount Carmel High School he has never seen a better high school player than Michael “Grizzy” Griswold, who graduated in 2013 with honors in the All-CIF first team and was accepted to work at UCLA. for a Division I football scholarship.

But on July 28, 2014, a 19-year-old sophomore was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant brain melanoma. Doctors warned the family that his chances of survival were slim.

But thanks to the support of his oncology team, his family, his general health, and his religious faith, Griswold survived, but at a cost. 14 tumors in his brain, as well as the effects of his illness and its aggressive treatment, left him blind and with problems with cognition, memory and speech. Grizzy survived but would never play football again.

Robert Griswold (left), Blind Stokers principal Dave White and Mount Carmel High School football coach Mark Green.

Robert Griswold (L), Blind Stokers principal Dave White, and Mount Carmel High School football coach Mark Green during one of Griswold’s first tandem practice runs at Lake Miramar in 2020.

(Dave White)

Then, a couple of years ago, Greene, who remained close to Griswold and his family, read an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune about Blind Firemen’s Club. Based in San Diego, the Recreational Tandem Cycling Club brings together sighted captains who steer from the front seat and blind and visually impaired riders in the back seat who provide the bike’s pedal power (or “lighting”). The Club of Blind Stokers was named, consisting of 100 people. Cycling Club 2021 San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.

With the help and training of Blind Stokers founder and CEO Dave White, and the support and friendship of Green, Griswold has gradually returned to regular exercise in 2020. Griswold with his current tandem cycling partner Ron Kelly, a triathlete from Rancho Santa Fe who now rides at least 35–40 miles a week with Griswold.

Now 27, Griswold says he loves everything about tandem cycling, including hanging out with Kelly and her triathlete buddies, known as “Amigo.” He is also grateful to be alive.

“I love the wind in my hair. I like to fasten and unfasten my shoes from the pedals. And I love people because I’m a social butterfly,” he said. “I miss football, but things are going very well. My parents told me that at some point my heart stopped and they declared me dead. So I’d rather be here than die in a ditch.”

His cycling partner Kelly, who joined the Blind Stokers about a year ago after buying a new tandem e-bike, said he and Griswold make a good team.

“He and I have a lot of fun and he keeps me on my toes,” Kelly said. “He is a positive person who is always in a good mood. Every day is a big day for him.”

Kelly said that seeing the club’s impact on visually impaired people has also been helpful.

“There are a lot of passionate people in this club,” said Kelly, 70. “When I see how it changes people’s lives, I feel grateful for being involved. I have never been around blind or visually impaired people before. From my point of view, it takes a lot of courage and trust to just hop on the back of a bike and ride and turn when you can’t see where you’re going.”

Blind Stokers tandem cycling partners Michael Griswold (left) and Ron Kelly set out on a 35 mile ride together.

Blind Stokers tandem cycling partners Michael Griswold (left) and Ron Kelly embarked on a 35-mile trip to Del Mar together on June 14.

(KC Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Kelly and Griswold will be among the participants Cycling for vision, 30-hour fundraiser on June 25 and 26 at the University of San Diego. It includes two days of cycling as well as food, accommodation and activities. This will raise money for both the San Diego Center for the Blind and the Blind Stokers. The all-volunteer Blind Firemen’s Club uses donations to pay for repairs to tandem bikes, club jerseys and equipment, and transportation costs to transport firemen to and from the group’s bi-monthly cycling events.

“We’re proud to be able to make a real difference,” White said of the club he founded in 2007. “Exercise is therapy for the brain. It is much more than a social connection. Michael and Ron are 40 years apart and are best friends now.”

Michael’s father, Robert Griswold, said that his son has always been independent and purposeful. This helped him survive in the fight for his life. Doctors initially told the Griswold family that if Michael survived his initial treatment, he would have a 2 percent survival rate in his second year. They didn’t have any information about survival at three or four years.

“When he was told in December 2014, ‘You have an incurable, inoperable form of brain cancer,’ he said, ‘I am going to fight this. Since then, he has adhered to this position, ”said Robert Griswold.

During Michael’s long hospital stay, including 17 weeks in intensive care, he suffered pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism, an infection, and a heart attack. Finally, in March 2015, he was released from the hospital to begin retraining in basic skills. Now he needs constant care.

Green visited the family often over the years, and he and Griswold took walks. But when the Greens and Whites of the Blind Stokers took Griswold on their first bike trial in 2020, he was barely strong enough to pedal around the block.

Ron Kelly (left) and Michael Griswold are members of the Blind Stokers tandem cycling club.

Ron Kelly and Michael Griswold are members of the Blind Stokers tandem cycling club training Tuesday June 14th in Del Mar.

(KC Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

But the experience motivated Griswold, and soon he was cycling every day on a stationary bike at the family’s home in the village of Santaluz near the Peñasquitos ranch. Within months, the trio – White and Griswold on a tandem bike and Greene on his single bike – extended their trips around Miramar Reservoir by up to 5 miles. By the end of 2020, the trio had completed a 24-mile five-city ride on the Bayshore Bikeway.

Robert Griswold said that being in the club got his son back in shape, provided him with a new social circle and proved to him that hard work can achieve goals. He said that his son’s long-standing dream is to get married and someday become a father.

Green said he enjoys seeing his former captain of the Mount Carmel varsity football team succeed, thanks in large part to the Blind Firemen’s Club.

“His parents supported him socially, but physically he didn’t seem to have led a wealthy existence before,” Greene said. “But now he rides an exercise bike at home, walks better and enjoys riding. The difference in him is physically striking. He moves better, he looks better, he’s happy and he has something to look forward to.”

To learn more about the Blind Firemen’s Club, visit blindstokersclub.org.

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