Glenn Lucky: Declared nearly dead at 15, community inspiration at 60
August 16, 2013
Glenn Lucky was going to die when he was 15. His doctor told him so.
That was in early 1969, before man landed on the moon, the Beatles broke up and the pocket calculator was introduced. Lucky has stuck around to witness decades of wonders and inspire tens of thousands of people since, reaching an age at which he qualifies for senior discounts at diners.
At 60, Lucky has slowed just a little, friends say, but his tanned arms remain chiseled by his near-daily bicycle rides between Indian Hills and downtown Carson City.
Lucky was born Sept. 27, 1952, in Coronado, Calif. His family was told when he was 1 year old that he had cerebral palsy. His future appeared bleak.
The family moved to South Lake Tahoe when Lucky was about 13. Two years later, he had an operation on both knees, and a doctor suggested something to him so life-altering that he'll never forget the date.
"May 15, 1969, I started riding my bike," he said. "I was 15."
It has kept him alive for nearly 46 years now since that fateful day, he says.
At South Lake Tahoe, riding was a treacherous-but-worthwhile endeavor. Lucky said he was hit by cars 17 times while there, and that the worst injury he suffered was a mild concussion. He said he hasn't been hit once in 29 years of riding on the ever-busier road between Indian Hills and Carson City.
Other than the improved safety, why make the move northeast to the capital?
"To get out of the snow," he said.
He now has three specially designed bikes, and he's a familiar sight to morning commuters heading north on U.S. Highway 395 into Carson City, as well as downtown dwellers. His commute downtown takes 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how good the tailwind is.
Lucky was introduced to a new crowd Friday night, when he threw out the first pitch at a Reno Aces game. The longtime baseball fan — he also likes football and collects sports cards — talked excitedly about the opportunity both before and after.
He has another baseball-related opportunity next month. His sister is taking him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., for his 61st birthday.
"Then we'll tour New York City," he said. "We'll be gone nine days."
Lucky's taking a plane to the East Coast — this time.
In 1988, he rode his bicycle to the White House, attending events organized by groups supporting cerebral palsy research and the Special Olympics.
"I found out that they don't get along," he said of the two groups. "Like adding water to oil."
Lucky also has ridden his bike from Carson City to South Lake Tahoe. He said the trip took about eight hours.
Lucky's tattoo collection has evolved through the years. He got his "USA Bad to the Bone" tattoo on his left bicep in Chico, Calif., in 2001. His other tattoos are "Wild Child" pictured along with an eagle, on his right arm, and "Party Animal" on his left arm. Why "Party Animal"?
"I had a very good friend in Vegas, and we partied," he said.
Lucky also helps people as a good Samaritan. He talked about offering to help a woman whose car had broken down in the middle of the road near Lowe's in Carson City. He lent her his cellphone, and she called someone to get help. Another time, he lent his phone to a young man who'd broken down in his parents' car in Indian Hills.
The community tends to treat Lucky reverently, but not everyone has always shown the kindness he's known for. In 2004, his wheels went missing. Two teens later admitted to swiping them, and Lucky pressed charges. Sheriff Ken Furlong said he wasn't sure what their sentences were, as they were minors when it happened and their records are kept differently.
Residents united around Lucky. In only two days, $11,000 was collected in an effort to buy him a new bike. The one eventually purchased for him at The Bike Smith cost $4,800, and the money also allowed him to get all future maintenance done there for free.
Lucky's a fixture downtown, and he said he doesn't usually have to approach people.
"They meet me," he said.
He has two brothers and two sisters and lives with his parents. Given that he has demonstrated his ability to dictate terms to his affliction and not vice versa, one might wonder just how long he plans to live.
"A hundred, I hope," he said.
Alyssa MacDonald, a waitress at Mom and Pop's downtown, has known Lucky for six years. They've become good friends, she said.
"A lot of people will say hi to him," she said. "A lot of people just know about him from riding around town. He'll say hi back to people and not know who they are. He'll look at me and (shrug)."
MacDonald said she thinks about Lucky for inspiration when she doesn't feel like getting up in the morning.
"He lives his life," she said. "He loves to get out and do things, just like everyone else."
Garrett Lepire, who works downtown as a career-development manager and Realtor for Coldwell Banker Select, said he recalls asking his parents about Lucky when he was 16.
"He's one of those guys who truly makes up the core of Carson City and makes Carson City different from everywhere else," Lepire said. "He epitomizes what people are basically about here, which is perseverance."
He said he stops to shake Lucky's hand anytime he sees him.
"I've never seen the guy without a smile on his face," he said.
That's by design, Lucky said. No. 1 on his list of favorite hobbies is making people smile. How does he achieve that?
"Just riding my bike," he said.