Bill Walton: Off the Court, On the Road
By Bekah Wright
Published Apr 22, 2013 2:34 PM
Basketball legend Bill Walton, '74, who broke records at UCLA, went on to play in the NBA for the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, San Diego Clippers and Portland Trailblazers. But ask the 60-year-old about his personal sports idols today, and he gushes over some unexpected names: Christian Vande Velde, Taylor Phinney and Tim Johnson.
Not athletes you'd find on a basketball court, those guys are among the nation's top professional cyclists. Last December, Walton lived out a dream when he pedaled alongside U.S. cycling luminaries.
Some might consider it a miracle of sorts that Walton could train with these elite cyclists. A series of injuries have kept him off the basketball court for the last 27 years. The list of medical issues he's tackled includes 36 orthopedic operations, a fused spine and two fused ankles and knees, as well as hands and wrists that don't work up to par. But he says, "My bike is my gym, my church and wheelchair all in one. It's my freedom, allowing me to move. What it does for my health is immeasurable."
Walton suffered a bike accident in November, resulting in injuries to his leg, elbow and ribs. Yet when he got a call about a cycling clinic led by Vande Velde at Rancho Valencia Resort he didn't hesitate to sign up. "Just climbing back onto the mountain one more time… it was an opportunity to chase my dream," he says. "To be with the guys, in the locker room, Jacuzzi, swimming pool and at team dinners, programs and lectures—there's nothing like being on the team."
So will Walton be joining the very same cyclists when the Amgen Tour of California—the country's largest professional road cycling stage race featuring 16 international pro teams—kicks off in his hometown of San Diego on May 12?
"There's no way I could ride with these guys; they'd drop me on the downhill leaving the parking lot," he says. "During the clinic, they were getting dressed, talking on their phones, texting and tying their shoes, all while riding their bikes. I was trying to hold on on the roll-outs."
Walton says he rides for fun, but he's already eyeing Rancho Valencia's next cycling clinic. "When you're part of something really special like this, your life is never the same again, and you can't wait for the next one."