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Back in the race

The hazy cloud descended over the course of a decade, transforming Stan Moore's world into one of muddled images in a landscape devoid of contour.

As the hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa continued to claim his sight, Moore came to terms with forfeiting the freedom of driving a car. But the once-competitive cyclist still pedaled along Medford's Crater Lake Avenue to his family's business, until the gravity of his situation literally hit home.

Cresting the slight hill at Spring Street, Moore spied a woman traversing the driveway to his store and slowed in the left-turn lane, waiting for an oncoming, full-sized pickup to pass. He didn't see the Isuzu Trooper hidden from view behind the truck and turned directly into its path.

"It's just like a dream," Moore says. "I thought I just glanced off of it."

In reality, the impact cracked the Trooper's windshield, mangled its bumper and landed Moore in a hospital bed for the night. He escaped the July 2006 accident with just cuts and scrapes, but his sense of self-reliance was deeply wounded.

"That was pretty much it," he says of his bicycling days.

Unable to give up cycling entirely, Moore, 53, turned to riding tandem, an interest he's cultivated over the past two years. He now has hopes of making the 2008 Paralympic team.

"I think it's a realistic goal," Moore says. "... I'm losing my sight, but I still have my legs."

For help, Moore sought out another local, competitive cyclist, Glen Gann, who says he's "kind of honored" that Moore would propose a partnership.

The two met about 25 years ago on Oregon's amateur bicycle racing circuit. Moore had attained a level of recognition in the 1970s, winning a state championship, placing 12th at nationals the following year and finishing high at an elite Hawaii stage race. He started shifting away from the sport in the early 1980s as Gann was kicking into a higher gear.

"When I first started racing, I came across Stan ... and he was one of the strongest racers in the valley," Gann says.

Tandem tied the former rivals together.

A necessity for Moore, tandem had brought Gann, 42, a measure of success, racing since 2005 with his son, Stephen. The father-son team was distinguished last year as Oregon's best all-around tandem team after they won the state criterium championships in Portland and numerous other events. Stephen, now 14, is starting to compete solo, vacating the back-seat spot on Gann's bike to make room for Moore.

"I just follow the guy in front," Moore jokes.

Blind athletes pioneered the sport of tandem cycling, which debuted at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea. More recent Paralympics have seen the addition of athletes with cerebral palsy, amputations or other physical disabilities who compete in classes determined by their degree of function and the skills required for cycling. They can race using bicycles, tricycles, tandems or hand cycles.

"Tandem is probably one of the few things a sight-impaired person can do at full capacity," Gann says.

Moore and Gann hope to compete in an approximately 50-mile road race and possibly a track event in Beijing, China, two weeks after the 29th Olympic Games. To get there, they'll have to qualify at a June time trial in Denver, riding about 12 miles in roughly 23 minutes, Moore says.

"It's going to be pretty difficult," Gann says. "We're going to have to work pretty hard at it."

Both Moore and Gann hit the gym in earnest over the winter. Before testing his legs on the tandem, Moore installed an indoor training cycle in his Medford home to reclaim endurance earned during his racing years. He's relying on a fitness program designed by Los Angeles-based professional cycling coach and 1988 Olympian David Brinton.

"He has a tremendous and a very admirable desire," Brinton says of Moore, the first disabled athlete on a roster of more than 2,500 cyclists Brinton has trained.

"I really feel that he can achieve some great success with this," Brinton says.

"If he made it on his first try, that would be just a phenomenal achievement."

Saturday's continuation of the Southern Oregon Time Trial Series is one planned training ground for Moore and Gann. About 50 riders — the number usually reflecting weather conditions — compete in the series of road races between White City and Phoenix over three weekends this month, says race director Amy Warner.

Riding 50 to 60 miles at a stretch several times per week allows Moore and Gann to perfect a system of communication. Moore can't see another tandem unless it's right next to theirs and he can't read the terrain to prepare for hill climbs. Instead, he listens closely for the sound of gears shifting. Mirroring Gann's movements around corners comes naturally, Moore says.

"It isn't any different than riding a regular bike."

Moore's return to racing resulted in a fifth-place finish out of 10 tandem teams at a Feb. 17 event near Corvallis. The experience, Moore says, was bittersweet and — removed from a familiar environment — exposed him as visually impaired, reliant on a red-tipped cane.

Shortly before the car crash that confirmed his disability, Moore sold the bicycle shop his father, Ralph Moore, started in 1959. But Stan Moore continues to operate his family's swimming pool supply store adjacent to the bicycle shop on Crater Lake Avenue.

Because he easily navigates both venues without a cane, Moore says, many customers don't suspect that he's legally blind. Assembling BMX bicycles or repairing pool pumps, Moore conjures a convincing illusion of sight.

Similarly, Moore surprised Gann and other participants in the Corvallis race with his ability to describe vehicles and landmarks on the car trip home. When twilight or cloud-cover softens the contrast between objects, he can see for half a mile, Moore says.

It's during these last 10 minutes of the day that Moore could ride a bicycle if he dared. Yet the fear that he would fall with no one around keeps his feet on the ground. So he dreams of feeling the wind full in his face without another body in front to numb the sensation of speed.

"It's like soaring like an eagle."

Stan Moore, left, who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, and Glen Gann ride tandem on East Vilas Road last Thursday. - Jamie Lusch