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Traveling across Northland by bike, cancer survivor aims to inspire

Randolph Westphal rides his bike with his dogs Nanook and Chinook on Thursday afternoon in Duluth. Westphal, 56, of Nidderau, Germany, has spent the past 26 years fighting — and so far, winning — the battle against cancer. He is now on his sixth world tour as a cyclist. (Clint Austin / / 3
Randolph Westphal laughs while talking to the media Thursday afternoon in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 3
Randolph Westphal is greeted by his dog Chinook as his other dog Nanook watches Thursday afternoon in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 3

The Scots have called him “braveheart,” Canadians have called him a “miracle” and Americans have called him a “living legend.” What he does is survive. And at that he excels.

“When I meet people, I give them hope” said Randolph Westphal, a self-described cyclist and motivational speaker. “I tell people to never give up. I want to be an inspiration to everyone.”

Randolph Westphal, 56, of Nidderau, Germany, has spent the past 26 years fighting — and so far, winning — the battle against cancer. He is now on his sixth world tour as a cyclist. He just traveled from Thunder Bay, Canada with his two service dogs Chinook and Nanook.

Despite having 28 cancer operations and three near-death experiences, Westphal still continues to cycle with his two service dogs. He says he loves cycling throughout Canada, United States and South America. He said he’s cycled 153 days in subzero temperatures. Westphal says he won’t let fear or anything else stop him from doing what he loves.

“I like to see how far I can go,” Westphal said. “I tell people to do what they love to do. When you do things that you like to do, it makes you happy and nothing else will matter. I will continue to ride my bike and spread my message.”

Since Westphal spends his life on a bicycle seat, he survives the generosity of others. While in Duluth, he received a complimentary hotel room, a Super One gift card and a repaired bike seat.

“I spent thirty seconds with him and learned so much,” said Dean Gies, a staff member at Ski Hut. “We took pretty good of him. We usually take care of cyclists.”

Westphal’s only coin is his own tale, which he used to purchase his accommodations at the hotel.

“He walked in and told our general manager his story,” said Rachel Birkholm, assistant general manager at the Comfort Suites Canal Park Hotel. “We have a few open rooms, so we thought why not let him stay here. He is very genuine and his story is amazing.”

His story goes like this: when Westphal was working as a computer technician in 1987, he didn’t know his life was going to change forever. He was 29 years old when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer. The doctors told him he had only six to 12 months to live. Westphal didn’t smoke or drink. He drew the conclusion that the cancer came from negative stress.

After a check-up at the doctor’s in the late 90’s, Westphal was inspired to share his cancer story with others. The doctor suggested that he start speaking to other cancer patients. Soon thereafter, Westphal took to the road with his dog on a trip that turned out to be more than 2,000 miles through Europe’s mountainous terrain. And he kept going.

“I started talking to people, radio stations, newspapers…everyone wanted to hear my story,” Westphal said. “I meet hundreds of people. I wanted to show them that we are not statistics. We can overcome cancer.”

Years later, Westphal’s life was on the line again. He experienced another close call when he was biking in Argentina in 1996. A pickup truck ran over him and killed one of his two dogs. The driver of the pickup left Westphal in a ditch because he thought he was dead.

“I was found four hours later, I didn’t even realized what happened because I was in shock,” Westphal said, his German accent still heavy, even after year’s in the United States. “Looking back, this was my most negative experience on the road.”

He spent one month in a hospital in Argentina then spent 5 years in a hospital in Germany. At the time, he lost some of his memory, couldn’t speak well and the doctors told him he would never walk again.

Westphal had no idea death would come knocking on his door for a third time. Last year, he was riding his bike in British Columbia when he collapsed on a busy road.

When Westphal arrived at the hospital with the help of three women, he found out he had MRSA bacteria in his heart. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is a particularly difficult strain to treat because of its resistance to antibiotics. The doctors told him he had two hours to live.

To everyone with cancer in the world, Westphal says no matter what don’t give up.

Westphal’s next stop is Mount Rushmore. To follow Westphal’s journey, check out his website at