From Adversity to Triumph - The Franz Family Cycling Story
How a father's life-changing accident inspired.
For those who know Heidi Franz, it's only natural that she has emerged as a talented all-rounder in just her third pro season. The motivation to push for that extra mile runs deep in her family thanks to an incredible role model: her father.
For Heidi's father Ernie Franz, an avid rider for most of his life, the bike has always been a source of joy and freedom. But in 2004, cycling took on a new meaning for Ernie and the Franz family. While out on a calm Monday afternoon, Ernie Franz was hit by a drunk driver, sustaining serious injuries that would affect his use of all four limbs.
Despite this tragedy, cycling became Ernie's pathway back to living a full, healthy life - and Heidi grew up watching her father's perseverance and determination every step of the way. Now, both riders inspire each other to keep thriving on the bike.
Growing up on Bainbridge Island in Washington, Heidi's parents instilled a love of cycling in her from a very early age. Pictured is Heidi's mother Gwen getting her ready to ride to school.
Ernie's initial road to recovery was filled with four months of operations to repair multiple fractures. The accident changed his life forever.
"Surgeries and hardware would restore much of my health, yet a high spinal cord injury would leave me an incomplete quadriplegic and end my career," Ernie said.
As a trauma doctor, Franz had spent plenty of time working in the hospital, but his injuries changed things.
"He could no longer work in the ER," Heidi said. "He ended up breaking both arms, among other things, had severe nerve damage in his left arm, and that's really what keeps him out of the emergency room, that he can't use his left hand very well."
Ernie went home from the hospital in a wheelchair, but with the hope that he would get back to walking at some point after a long rehab process. He did not waste time getting to work to make that hope a reality.
"The day I got home from the hospital, my physical therapist came to our home, told me vacation was over, and that it was time to get to work," Ernie says. "He figured out quickly what would motivate me: cycling."
Over the course of several weeks, Franz worked his way from a recumbent trainer to riding on the road in a recumbent tandem with his physical trainer. "As Heidi put it, "my dad was super determined to get back on his bike," and at age nine she had a front-row seat to her dad's hard work.
That hard work paid off. Within a year, he was strong enough to take on the "Chilly Hilly" ride around Bainbridge Island on a tandem bike with his physical trainer. A young Heidi Franz would not miss the chance to take to the road alongside her dad. She tackled the challenge too, on her mountain bike.
"It's 33 miles and almost 4000 feet of elevation gain," she recalls. "I walked up every single hill. It took me six hours...I was nine. But I did all 33 miles of it."
Heidi grew up with more than one source of inspiration to draw from. Her mother, Gwen, was the loving, supportive, and hardworking center of the family.