The staff of Further Faster Forever value a lot of things, but the heart and soul of our organization is the idea of building a global community of endurance athletes who inspire and challenge one another. People coming together around a common love: whether it is running, cycling, swimming or a combination of all three, FurtherFasterForever is a group of people around the globe whom inspire and challenge us everyday.
None of this would exist if it wasn’t for Aaron Edge.
While riding 100 mile centuries in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Aaron used to scribble Further Faster Forever on his handle bars to remind himself that he could go that extra mile. Little did Aaron know that one day that mantra would start a global movement to motivate and inspire athletes to go beyond their limits. Aaron, a print designer who now lives in Portland, not only created the mantra but designed the logo that has adorned thousands upon thousands of pictures on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter.
The last few weeks we haven’t featured an athlete of the week because we wanted to dedicate a period of time to share Aaron’s story with all of you. This past week we had the chance to really get to know the man behind the hash tag.
We know you coined the hash tag #furtherfasterforever mantra, but when did you start riding/running?
I started cycling in Seattle in 2007, first on fixed gear bicycles and eventually road bikes. Cycling was the first healthy thing I had done in my adult life. I spent a lot of my time before that in vans, playing in or working for bands on tour around the country… which is not the healthiest of lifestyles. Playing music on the road took a back seat (er, saddle) and traveling the roads on a two-wheeled device took a priority in my life. I found such peace in my time away from work, troubles, etc. while hunched over a bicycle. Fast-forward to April of 2010: I had grown so tired of the Northwest rain, and it had never bothered me until I started cycling. One morning, I shouldered my bicycle and headed out the door, only to come right back up the stairs in disappointment… the rain had destroyed my spirit. So I changed out of my kit, pulled on some running shoes and head back out into the rain to go for a run. Mind you, I had not done any running since my track and field days of middle school. I figured that running couldn’t be that tough for me, I mean, I was riding well over a hundred miles a week at that time and in great shape. I was dead wrong about it not being a tough transition. As we all know, running and cycling are very different, one fluid and one full impact. I couldn’t run a single mile without terrible knee pain. I returned to my apartment, defeated.
Well, I am an “all of nothing personality”, always have been. I didn’t give up on running, and by July of that same year, only three months later, I ran my first 20-miler. It was such an accomplishment, and I stuck with it. It was rare that I ran less than 10-13 miles at a time. And the rain didn’t bother me ever again. I’d just look out my apartment window and let the weather make choices for me. If it was clear out, I’d ride. If raining, I’d run. Some days I’d do both. It was amazing to have a choice and to let nature chose for me. I learned to love the rain again, really love it.
At the end of 2012 you started experiencing pain in your hands, tell us more about that?
While living in Los Angeles (2011-2012), I began having tingling sensations in my body after long 70+ mile rides along the PCH. I chalked it up to normal wear on the body after such mileage. I got a new bike fitting and wrote it off. A few months later, I started having the most terrible random pains in two of my fingers. After speaking with my Mother (who has arthritis in her hands), I prepared myself, without a proper diagnosis, for a life of arthritis pain. I was bummed, but it made sense. I wrote that off as well.
The pain spread from your hands throughout your body, correct?
Yes. My wife and I moved back to the Northwest (Portland, Oregon) last November 1st. We hadn’t felt like Los Angeles was home, we gave that place two years and packed up everything, and though I loved my job there, I missed the culture of my Northern home. I missed seasons. I missed everything about life up in the Northwest. As soon as I started riding and running in Oregon, I had pin/needling in my hands and feet. Since I had not time acclimating to the temperature changes (LA to NW), I figured that my limbs and digits were just cold. I mean, I was riding in 70-90 degree temperatures in Southern California in October and then 30 degree temperatures in Portland a few days later. I busted out my serious winter gear but it wasn’t enough. My new riding partners were confused by my symptoms as well. My pals weren’t that cold or feeling the pain, we all just thought I had lost some toughness and needed time to acclimate. Once again, I wrote it off and kept riding and running with pain.
When did you know that there was really something wrong?
On January 5th of 2013, I woke to the pain and it has not left me yet (even to the day of this interview). My hands and feet feel as if they are asleep and crushed under heavy weight every minute of every day/night. I knew then that something was terribly wrong. I could no longer shift my gears on the bike, could not gold drum sticks while playing in my wife’s band, could not do dishes or other chores around the house, could not operate a mouse or keyboard, I could not feel any kind of change in terrain while running… terrible pain and total lack of control. The “zing” and aches grew to my chest and back. Life had changed and I was really considering terrible options in my mind, I became more depressed with every hour of pain. I stopped running, riding, hiking. The stress, of course, was making it all so much worse.
We know you visited a lot of doctors that didn’t help much.
I was tested for everything: vitamin deficiency, lead and lime poisoning, arthritis, heart conditions. The first doctor saw nothing wrong. The second doctor suggested that I get MRIs. I couldn’t believe it. Who had I become? I only got sick once a year, maybe a cold when the season changes, never have health issues, never in hospitals… not ever. The only sprains, scrapes of any kind were from battling cars in traffic while riding my bicycle. And now, something terrible was happening. Some new monster.
Finally, I met up with a neurologist, the third person to see me. He checked my scans and ordered a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). The procedure had me in bed for nine days with a headache and back ache. My results from the spinal tap, along with the viewing of spots in my brain and spine via MRIs, was all the neurologist needed to diagnose me with Multiple Sclerosis on March 6th of 2013.
We can’t imagine how you felt when you were diagnosed with MS.
I felt and still feel absolutely crushed. I went from being the healthiest person (of my age) that I knew, to the unhealthiest person (of ANY age) that I knew. Life was on hold. I was seriously depressed and with many dark thoughts. I shut out friends and family, even my wife at times. I was unproductive, not creative, unable to work, in pain and served (in my mind) a death sentence. Frozen, like the winter outside my very door.
How important has the support of your family, wife, friends been during this process?
Because I shut my family and friends out, I didn’t let them support me at first. I was too confused and aggressively angry at my own body for letting me down. My only lifeline was my wife, bless her heart. She has stuck with me, at my worst. I will say this: without my wife by my side, I certainly (and without question), would have crawled up into the woods and blown my own head off. It’s been that bad.
That’s so intense. What roll has the Further Faster Forever community had in this process?
Eventually, I let my family and friends in. BUT, during this whole experience, the most supportive people, aside from my wife, has been runners and cyclists in the F3 community (folks I have never met in person). Amazing people (who know who they are and need no shootouts), who have dedicated extra miles in my name. That’s crazy. That’s unheard-of. I have received well-wishing texts, emails and care packages from total strangers. Strangers that, even if they know no illness themselves, have been so sympathetic to my suffering. And, sadly, there are some who suffer themselves and they are empathetic. Both types of strangers, so helpful in my mood-altering. The support from the F3 community reminded me that there are selfless people around the globe who care for other humans that share a similar goal. That goal is betterment, be it health or mood or otherwise. My wife kept me alive, straight up. F3 folks kept me in their hearts. I can’t thank everyone enough, that of course now includes my family and friends too. I am still quite negative and devastated about all of this, but knowing that people care about me does make it so much easier.
Are there cures, medications, treatments etc that you will be going through/on?
There is no cure. Looks like I have my choice of/between three different meds that aim at decreasing future attacks (up to only 30%), each one is a self-administered shot… the most promising and popular is an every day needle poke for the rest of my life. That’s pretty lame. But, everything is pretty lame right now. My new MS-specific doctor, who I haven’t met yet, will walk me through some other meds to aid in sleep, of which I get very little and in small increments. I will also be swallowing a pill three times a day to combat my constant pin/needling in my hands and feet, which is caused by confused/exposed nerves. Once pain is under control, I will hopefully get back to cycling, running, drumming, working, and everything else we take for granted (like buttoning pants or a shirt, helping do dishes and even holding my own dinner plate while eating).
You recently moved to Portland from Southern California and have yet to find full time employment as a print designer. With all the medical bills piling up, how have you handled the stress of not being able to run/ride?
I’m still freelance designing for clients and that brings in some dough, so, no full-time job was not an issue until all the bills started piling up. Now, of course, it’s an issue. And, because of the disease, I will be on meds and paying bills like this the rest of my life. That’s a tough pill to swallow (no pun). As far as not riding and running goes, well, I’m starting over again. Back to square one. I have the need and lust for cardio, but for a while it’ll be quenched in much smaller increments. I used to run two half marys a week and ride up to a hundred miles a week. That’s gonna’ be different now and I don’t expect to ever be up to that kind of mileage again. I’m realistic on that front. That said, if I do reach that level or somehow surpass my old accomplishments… well, all the better.
From March 12 – 24th we pre-sold a limited edition t-shirt to help raise money for your medical bills, the campaign was a huge success. How else can the F3 community help support you? A donation perhaps?
First of all, thank you for even considering something like this. Even if $5 dollars comes my way from the sale of these shirts, that’s an incredible help. As well as any additional help via donation, I must say this… if you really want to help me out, purchase a shirt. There are a few reasons:
- The shirt has a positive message that other people should see.
- The shirt supports and pushes the F3 team/movement/brand even further (ok … pun) and THAT is a big deal to me. I am so happy to see people supporting this whole thing that a few of us got together and started. Every new #furtherfasterforever hash tag promotes healthy living. Positive living.
Wear the shirt proudly, keep it as a banner knowing that you are representing one of the most amazing groups of people on the planet. People, who as I’ve said above, are willing to help each other out with support. With care. Because, after all, we all post photos with a hash tag to connect ourselves to others. Otherwise, it would just be for ourselves. We all love to be appreciated and pushed by our peers…even if we have never met them in person. I used to scribble the slogan/manta “Further Faster Forever” on my bicycle handlebars before F3 was started. And while in pain, suffering or faced with a most difficult climb, reading it and mumbling it though parched lips helped remind me that life is a journey and ya can’t go back. You can only go forward. As any cyclist will agree, it might as well be faster.