Remembering Michael Walter
The Mike Walter 100-Lap Madison takes it name as a memorial to former velodrome racer Michael Walter. When this annual event was started in 2009, former velodrome director Jack Simes III penned a nice piece on his old friend. We’d be remiss if we didn’t re-publish it ahead of this week’s memorial race.
“Michael”, “Mike”, “Mikie”, “Kraut”, “Streetfighter”, it all depends on how or when you knew him and what you like.
Thirty three bike racing seasons have come and gone and come again since this man last slung his leg over a saddle. Way back in that time, what began as the Trexlertown Velodrome, now our Valley Preferred Cycling Center, was in its first season and finding its way in the evolution of bike racing sport; an ideal setting for Streetfighter to join immediately after graduating from Dickensen High in Jersey City that spring and seeking his own way.
He raced with notable results here that year in 1976 as a 6’1″ seventeen year old junior rider, winning pro am events, as well as becoming a member of the 1976/77 USA Junior World Teams.
Taking bookpacking jobs at Rodale Press when the 1977 racing season ended, he and regular madison partner, Bruce “The Torch” Donaghy wintered in Emmaus before leaving for 1978 pre season training in Florida. From there they headed for the Montreal 6-Day stopping over for day in the Lehigh Valley to re-supply for the trip.
“I only ever had one bad day in my life”
It was then on April 5, 1978 Mike was hit from behind by a drunk driver never to regain the use of his legs or much use of his arms. Thus, instead of pursuing his first passion of bike racing, his legacy would include his last thirty plus years on Earth as a quadriplegic.
“I’m the quad they couldn’t kill”
Down but not out the Kraut began to rebuild. He took college courses and forged ahead, heath setback after setback to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology from DeSales and becames employed as a peer counselor at Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living.
Reconnecting in 1992 with his Dickensen High Sweetheart, Kathy, together they created an admirable life from their secluded Emmaus mountain top home with their four cats, his signature Bob Dylan music and proliferate communication with the many who came to know them through friendship, sport, and spirit. “I grew up across the street from Mike,” said Marty Nothstein. “He and his father, Heinz, introduced me to cycling. They were so instrumental in my career.”
“With all my bad luck, I’ve had so much good luck”
Make no mistake, Mike was never by any tincture of a shadow of doubt comfortable nor resoloved in any way with his lot in the wheel chair. He would tell you flat out that part of his life just plan “Sucks.” And, he probably never woke up a day without thinking of himself as a bike racer – wheelchair be damned. That as it is, through it all ran his substantial dose of philosophical good humor in all weather, the exceptions being if one suggested he was a wheel-sucker in a bike race or told him Dylan can’t sing any more or to even think anti stem cell research. Go there and things got intense.
So, when the gun fires and the Michael Walter Trophy Race is on – his favorite old school style one hundred lap Madison of suffering, struggle, winning, courage, fighting spirit, special music (Dylan, of course) – beat the fence, stomp your feet, cheer the riders loudly in tribute to Mike, who showed us all such high level character in the race of life. Let the Michael Walter Trophy Race begin” (2009 RaceDay Program).
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