Danny Lockhart dropped out of Tri-County High School at 15 and slept under a railroad trestle in Columbus for several months to escape a difficult home and to determine his life’s direction. And one of those routes took him on a cross-country bike ride last month to raise money for disabled athletes, a charity that — but for the grace of God, he says — he could have been receiving instead of giving.
Lockhart earned his GED then a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix. He thought he would go to law school, but a divorce left him as a single parent who had to find a different way to make a living. Now, this 45-year-old Geneva, Ga., resident home-schools his 10-year-old son in his cabinetmaking shop, Georgia Woodcraft, while his wife, Sue, works as purchasing manager and production control coordinator at Oneda Corporation in Columbus.
Lockhart started competing in endurance races as something to do with his son, Christian, who goes by “Goose.” Their first race was the Country’s Midnight Express 5K in 2011, when Goose was 4. They finished 1,447th and 1,448th in 37 minutes and 3 seconds out of 2,447 finishers. Four years later, they finished 184th and 185th in 25 minutes and 54 seconds.
“It’s just kind of blossomed into this craziness,” Lockhart said.
In March 2016, Lockhart did his first ultra-run, Operation Endurance at Fort Benning. He covered 100 miles in 24 hours and won.
“I guess I kind of learned a lot about myself in that race,” he said, “how to utilize the gifts that I have.”
He better understood “how my body functions and works, nutrition and patience.”
Lockhart has competed in various races that test his running, biking and swimming skills. To stay in shape, he bikes four to five times per week and runs several times per week. The bike rides range from 25 miles to 100 miles, and the runs range from 5 miles to 20 miles, depending on whether he is preparing for a race. As for his swimming, “I swim to stay above the water in a race,” he said with a laugh.
Along with teammates Joanne Cogle and Adam Weinbaum, Lockhart set the bike division record in the 260-mile Run Across Georgia ride from Savannah to Columbus with a time of 17 hours and 5 minutes. Sue then jokingly asked him, “So what’s next? You’re going to ride across the country?”
Two weeks later, Lockhart registered for the Trans Am Bike Race.
This past December, while riding his bike on U.S. Highway 80 near the Pratt & Whitney plant in Columbus, Lockhart was hit by a car.
“The driver fell asleep at the wheel,” he said. “Broke my scapula into three pieces.”
The Dodge Neon’s estimated speed at impact was 65 mph, Lockhart said, shaking his head in disbelief, “and I lived to talk about it.”
Lockhart recalled hearing behind him the sound of the car veering onto the rumble strip. He steered his bike off the road, thinking he was safely out of the way, but the car kept coming at him.
“Thankfully, it was a small car,” he said, “so, when he hit me, I kind of rode up on the hood, rather than get pushed under the vehicle.”
When the driver finally reacted and turned, Lockhart and his bike were thrown approximately 30 feet.
“There was a huge hole in the back of my helmet,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t had a helmet on.”
Lockhart, who serves as chief of the Fort Perry Volunteer Fire Department, never lost consciousness, so he used his training as first responder to help himself. The pain was “immobilizing,” he said, but he was able to reach for his cellphone and call for an ambulance.
The driver “didn’t have a scratch on him,” Lockhart said.
Two months later, Lockhart’s doctor allowed him to return to cabinetmaking and endurance racing.
“I was kind of in awe that I went through that and came out the way that I did,” he said. “I felt ultra-blessed as a result of it.”
Lockhart dedicated himself to helping others after an upbringing that wasn’t uplifting. He figured, “God’s not finished with me.”
The Trans Am Bike Race doesn’t require participants to compete on behalf of a charity, but Lockhart chose that purpose because “I think the world is bigger than me, and I want to make sure that, in whatever I do, that there’s something out there that’s being represented.”
Lockhart is a member of a Columbus area triathlon team called Team Strive, comprising approximately 15 racers. The team raises money for myTEAM TRIUMPH, a nonprofit organization based in St. Joseph, Mich., that enables athletes with disabilities to captain a team of “angels” in endurance races by using specialized chairs.
In March, Lockhart answered Team Strive’s request to be an angel in a Columbus 5K run for autism.
“To see those captains,” he said, “their reaction and how they were affected by that really touched me.”
After all, he could have been the disabled athlete being pushed in that chair.
“Because of my accident,” he said, “I thought about that. It could be any one of us.”
So it was an easy choice to use his participation in the Trans Am Bike Race to benefit myTEAM TRIUMPH. He decided to raise money to buy equipment for a disabled athlete to compete in a triathlon: a wheelchair that is pushed for the running portion and converts into a seat that attaches to a bike, as well as a mini boat that can be pulled by a harnessed swimmer.
As he flew to Oregon in late May to prepare for the Trans Am Bike Race, Lockhart said, “It felt kind of odd having a one-way ticket across the country.”
The race started with 133 participants June 3. He covered the 4,300-mile course from Astoria, Ore., to Yorktown, Va., in 25 days and 17 hours, finishing in 31st place on June 29.
“There are some racers still out there,” he said Friday, nine days after he finished.
The course included parts of 10 states: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia. Competitors were tracked through checkpoints and via GPS, but they were alone on the road. No support team.
Lockhart got off to a rough start. In Mitchell, Ore., elevation 2,777 feet, he nearly suffered hypothermia.
“Me being from the South,” he said, “I didn’t realize it was going to be 25 degrees colder on top of that mountain. That slowed me down for a couple of days while I recovered.”
The GPS device on his bike was his navigator, “but it’s not always reliable when you’re out in the middle of nowhere,” he said with a smile.
As a result, he missed “eight or 10” turns, although he never meandered “too far out of the way.”
Asked for his best moment during the race, Lockhart struggled to answer.
“The scope of this race is just so enormous, even having done it, it’s hard to fully comprehend the entirety of it,” he said.
Then he concluded that the camaraderie among the competitors and meeting inspiring people in the various towns he rode through are his favorite parts of the race.
“The American spirit of helping is really neat,” he said.
For example, at 2 a.m. one freezing night in Yellowstone National Park, he was searching for a place to sleep, when a couple told him there wasn’t a campground within 20 miles. They invited him to stay at their house, a half mile away, where he took his first shower in three days.
“You guys are a Godsend,” he told them.
All of which renewed his faith in the nation and humanity.
“I really believe that we are an awesome country and an awesome people,” he said.
Not everybody he encountered, however, bolstered that declaration.
“Drivers sometimes are inconvenienced by you slowing them down and taking 10 seconds out of their lives,” he said. “Those 10 seconds can turn into a life at-risk situation.”
He had a close call with a semi that ran him off the road in Missouri. But his worst moment during the race was learning on the race’s Facebook page that a competitor he befriended was killed by a vehicle in Kansas. Eric Fishbein, a 61-year-old cyclist from San Luis, Obispo, Calif., was struck by from behind by a Honda Accord on K-96 highway about eight miles east of Leoti in Wichita County, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
“It was a tough day,” said Lockhart, who was 2 hours ahead of Fishbein at the time. “We had actually shared hotel rooms together five or six nights.”
Several distraught competitors dropped out of the race then, Lockhart said, but he resolved to pedal onward.
“Knowing him and the conversations that we had, Eric wasn’t a quitter,” he said. “I really felt like, for me to honor him in any way, it would be to finish the race.”
Asked what he learned about himself through this race, Lockhart replied, “I’m not necessarily as bad as my dad said I was. If we really put our minds to things, I think we can pretty much succeed at whatever we set out to do.”
By finishing the cross-country journey, Lockhart collected $5,286 to help the Georgia chapter of myTEAM TRIUMPH buy an AXIOM Conversion Chair for an athlete with disabilities to compete in endurance races.
“The great people are all those that helped with the donations,” he said. “I was just doing a bike ride.”
HOW TO DONATE
Danny Lockhart still is accepting donations for myTEAM TRIUMPH at classy.org/fundraiser/959005.