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Now this is a real extreme athlete

Joe Zavala —

Bobby McMullen walks likes an extreme athlete, talks like — an extreme athlete and rides his mountain bike downhill at speeds up to — 30 mph like an extreme athlete. He just can't see like one.

He's blind.

That's right. McMullen, a 41-year-old outdoor enthusiast — who competed in the 13th-annual Spring Thaw Mountain Bike Festival in — Ashland last week, can't see worth beans. He's blind out of his left eye — and has 20-1,200 vision out of his right. How bad is that? McMullen says — its like looking through a rolled up piece of paper with Vaseline gooped — over the opening.

"My life is a blurry paradise," he says.

Actually, anatomically speaking it's more like a disaster. —

Besides the eye thing (more on that later) McMullen has — already had two kidney transplants and two pancreas transplants, the last — coming in 2003.

It gets worse.

Almost a year to the day after his first transplant in — '98, and just before he was slated to ski in the Nagano Para-Olympics, — he broke the little toe on his right foot. The doctors didn't think he — could stand the pain, but they asked anyway.

"I said, 'Come on, I just went through a double transplant,' — McMullen recalls. "'Hell yeah.'"

McMullen ended up "settling" for fourth in the downhill. — Meanwhile, his toe swelled up so big they had to cut a whole in his ski — boot.

"They amputated my toe - that was my big trip to Nagano," — he said.

Don't look now

But that snip barely qualified as a surgery by McMullen's — standards. His problems started when he was diagnosed with diabetes at — age 12. That didn't stop him from going to law school, but those plans — were amputated too when, at 29, he was diagnosed with an extreme case — of Proliferative Diabetic Retinotathy. Don't bother typing that in to — Google; the definition won't do it justice.

Basically, just imagine the worst possible eyeball ache — ever and add blood. "What happens," McMullen describes in horrid detail, — "is you have problems with circulation — in your eyes, and when this happens — it tells your body to grow blood vessels and bleed."

Then, in a scene right out of Hellraiser, the blood drained — into McMullen's eyes. Doctors eventually performed an experimental surgery — in an attempt to save at least a glimmer of light for McMullen.

It worked - kind of. The left eye's useless, but the right — is ever so slightly functional. He has no depth perception, so everything — looks flat. In optimal light conditions - when was the last time you worried — about that while taking a corner on your Trek - he can pick up shapes — and colors.

"It's like skiing in a white out," McMullen says.

So what do you do when your blind as a bat in one eye, — and see the world as a blurry painting in the other. Ride bikes really — fast past large rocks and trees, of course.

Which brings us to what McMullen was doing in Ashland — last week during a Southern Oregon Mountain Bike Association event.

The picture in Tuesday's Tidings tells it all. He rides — behind his guide, currently Jason Allen, who's responsible for calling — out important little directions, like: "Right, Right!" and "Bump, bump!"

He doesn't ride with a special handicap group, either. — In the Spring Thaw downhill event, held May 2, he finished the 1.7-mile — course in 7 minutes, 19.23 seconds, good enough for 96th out of 106 riders.

McMullen isn't impressed with himself. "I just love to — ride my bike and I happen to be visually impaired," he said.

His guide sees things a little more clearly.

"He's basically a walking miracle."