Author and athlete Kyle Bryant has just published Shifting into High Gear, a memoir in which he shares his story of discovering his diagnosis of Friedreich’s ataxia and how a bike ride across America changed his life entirely. It is the story of a personal journey that will touch the personal journeys of so many others in the world, a story of finding hope and holding onto it when all hope seems completely lost, and a story of coming out of one’s shell and discovering what it truly means to be alive.
The life and dreams of an athletic young boy are shattered in an instant when he is diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia: a neurological disease that shortens one’s lifespan and gradually leads to immobilization. It is a disease where a cure has yet to be found and leaves those diagnosed, as well as their families, feeling lost and hopeless. When seventeen year old Kyle Bryant discovered that he had Friedreich’s ataxia, he felt his life was already over… until one day when he decided that he would do something with what time he had left rather than just wait for the end to come. He discovered freedom on a recumbent bike and decided to ride from California to Tennessee to raise awareness for all of those who were diagnosed with a form of ataxia and to aid in discovering a cure to save those who will carry it in years to come.
So many stories written about personal journeys have been shared and will continue to be shared as they should, for each person who has overcome a hardship in life, no matter what that hardship may be, offers inspiration, confidence, and faith to a large and diverse reading audience. However, there is something rather unique about Bryant’s story that cannot be found in many other memoirs. Not only does Shifting into High Gear focus on a debilitating disease many may not have ever heard of, but it also begins with a story of self-discovery that gradually shifts to a story of community awareness and fighting for a cause bigger than one single person could ever imagine on their own.
Ataxia is “a degenerative disease of the nervous system are related to degeneration of the part of the brain, called the cerebellum, that is responsible for coordinating movement” (National Ataxia Foundation). To know that such a disease exists, to understand that human beings suffer from its terrible consequences every day, and to learn that it is a disease that has no cure as of yet is both informative and terrifying. Bryant shares in his memoir how he and his family felt when they learned that he was diagnosed with Friedrich’s ataxia: a sense of hopelessness, sadness, and dread. These feelings reach out to so many different families who suffer from a loved one who has Ataxia or another fatal disease, at how inexplicably hopeless and pointless life seems to become… But this is not the message Bryant portrays in his memoir.
No, Shifting into High Gear is the story of facing the darkest times with strength and fighting back against the impossible to live a life not just for oneself, but for others. Bryant discovered that riding a recumbent bike made him feel alive and he rode from San Diego, California to Memphis, Tennessee to fulfill his own personal journey. Along the way, he discovered a cause far greater: his ride was not just about him, but about every single person who has ever been and will ever be diagnosed with Ataxia. And Bryant did not stop at just one ride, but kept going on more rides to raise even more awareness for an excellent cause.
Bryant’s journey is truly an admirable story to read and one that will reach out to a large audience. His writing style is very realistic and he tells it like it is with both humor and earnestness. He shares the good and the bad, the amazing and the terrible, the life-threatening and the life-changing events that have made him into the man he is today. He is honest with his readers about his ups and downs. To this day, he admits he still struggles with inner conflicts and this is, surprisingly enough, refreshing to read. Anyone who fights a constant battle or any family who fights alongside a loved one knows that constant feeling of doubt and hopelessness that creeps its way in time after time. Bryant, however, shares both sides of the spectrum and is also honest about how one should never give up on life without a fight.
Both heart-wrenching and heartwarming, Shifting into High Gear shares an honest story of encouragement, awareness, hope, and courage that anyone, whether they themselves are diagnosed with a form of Ataxia or simply wishing for more in life, will instantly grasp onto. It is a story that encourages anyone, regardless of where they are in life, to come out of their shell and live the amazing life worth living for, to keep moving forward and to fight against the negativity life throws one’s way. These bike rides across the country have allowed Bryant to live a life beyond any he could ever imagine and the beauty he has experienced in the world is beauty many may not experience in life unless they themselves go out and find it.