Forest Hills man cycling for MS Society fundraising milestone after serious crash

·4 min read

Jun. 11—Bicyclist Larry Sachs knows his strength isn't in climbing hills.

His forte is making up time on the downhill.

During a training ride with members of his bicycling group, he began a descent on Greenleaf Street from Mt. Washington to Route 51. His friends warned him to watch his speed.

"I was going too fast on that hill," said Sachs, 63, of Forest Hills. "I came around a blind turn and tried to turn the opposite way. I hit the brakes, skidded on gravel and flew off the bike into a grassy area that had some rocks. When I looked up I saw my bike far away from me. I was in pain. I was able to wiggle my fingers and toes, so I thought that was a good sign."

The date was Aug. 31, 2019.

A teammate found him lying face down. Sachs punctured his left lung, broke seven ribs, fractured bones in his left upper arm and shoulder and his ring and pinkie finger on his right hand.

He broke bones in his back and neck.

Sachs spent 17 days in Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. Ten of hose days were in the trauma unit.

Through his rehabilitation, he was determined to get back on his bike. Sachs doesn't ride for himself. He raises money for multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information between the brain and body.

In the past 30 years, he's raised $487,000 through participating in bike tours. He has raised $10,715 currently for Bike MS: Escape to the Lake 2021, which is on Saturday. It will be his 30th ride.

Normally the rides are 150 miles but because of the pandemic the route will be about half that distance.

People can donate here through June 30.

Nearly 1 million people have MS in the United States, according to the National MS Society.

Bike MS is the largest fundraising cycling series in the world. Each year, nearly 75,000 cyclists and more than 6,000 teams ride together to change the world for people with MS, according to its website.

"It blows my mind every time I think about that number," said Sachs, who was asking doctors, nurses and hospital workers for donations for the MS Society during his recovery.

Alan Iszauk, of Monroeville, who is team captain of the Hungarian ExCycled Racing Team of which Sachs is a member, said he didn't think Sachs would ride again. The team was featured on page 66 in Momentum magazine, a publication of the National MS Society.

"I was there on that fateful day," said Iszauk. "I thought he was dead."

The ambulance arrived quickly."

Sachs, a retired Allegheny County assistant district attorney, looks at the positives that he is able to ride again. The people he's met with MS have shown him how to preserve through challenges, he said. His partner Sandy Preuhs has been by his side through several surgeries, including a heart operation last year.

Sachs began biking at college at the University of Iowa, where he as a gymnast. He went on to Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. A bike was his transportation.

His first time back on the bike was Feb. 22, 2020 when he rode his Cannondale on his street not more than 300 or 400 feet.

Sachs wasn't familiar with MS. He originally wanted to raise enough money to win prizes. His first bike ride was for the American Cancer Society. He was given a mug for his fundraising effort. Another year, he learned about a UPMC Children's Hospital cycling event in Pittsburgh and won a VCR for raising the third highest and went on to raise the most and won a trip to Hawaii.

In 1990, a secretary in his office let him know about the MS ride. Her sister had MS. He has been top fundraiser so many times that he's donated the prize to others.

When Sachs told Iszauk about going back to Greenleaf Street for another ride, Iszauk wasn't thrilled. A year and a week after the accident, Sachs descended that hill along with Iszuak.

"Larry has such a positive attitude," said Iszauk. "He was so motivated to get back on the bike. He brings so much to our team. I wasn't thrilled to go back there because I occasionally still have nightmares about that day and seeing him on the ground."

Sachs needed to go down that hill one more time. He didn't ride any faster than 20 miles per hour — less than the 35 miles per hour the day of his accident.

"I felt bad for my teammates that day because they warned me," said Sachs, who holds on to the dented helmet that saved his life. "I climb hills slow but I am like a bat out of hell when I go downhill."

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, jharrop@triblive.com or via Twitter .