German man biking through Valley hoping to raise inspiration as he battles cancer

Jennifer Vardy Little
Published on September 3, 2014

Randolph Westphal was in Kentville Sept. 3 as part of his sixth trip around the world via bicycle. The German man, accompanied by his service dogs Chinook and Nanook, has been battling cancer for the past 26 years. 

©Jennifer Vardy Little

Randolph Westphal was just 29 years old when he got a diagnosis that would floor most people. He was told he had malignant melanoma – a skin cancer – and only had six months to live.

That was 26 years ago, and the German man is all about beating the odds and living life to the fullest.

Westphal – then a soccer player who trained four days a week and played once a week – decided to set out to see the world.

“I chose the pedal bike, because that was the cheapest way to get from point A to point B,” he said. “I didn’t know I’d get into it so much. I thought maybe I’d go one time around the world.”

Westphal’s surpassed that goal – five times – earning him a Guinness Book of World Records title. With 230,000 kilometres behind him, he’s now in the midst of his sixth world tour and is spending the next few weeks pedaling through Nova Scotia.

His journey hasn’t been easy, however. His cancer came back, many times, and the 56-year-old now has 28 cancer operations under his belt. An accident in Argentina killed his service dog and claimed his left leg, causing him to spend five years in hospital.

“The doctor said I’d never get out of the wheelchair,” he said, then grinned.

“I did.”


Biking through Nova Scotia

Westphal has been in Nova Scotia for the past few weeks, and was in Kentville Sept. 3. Later this week, he’ll head deeper into the Annapolis Valley as he heads towards Digby, where he plans to spend the weekend, and then on to the South Shore.

“It looks like Germany or Scotland here,” he says. “It reminds me a lot of places in Germany.”

Canada, he says, has been an interesting trip, which included a lengthy stay in a British Columbia hospital last year – a MRSP infection travelled to his heart, leaving him at risk of a heart attack – and his coldest biking experience ever while travelling through Hudson Bay, Ontario in –51 degree Celsius weather this winter.

The MRSP infection left him unable to bike long distances alone and can’t carry his full 270 pound pack, so he now uses a car to transport him over long stretches of road. His bike pulls his only companions, the second and third generations of descendants of the service dog he lost in that Argentinian accident. Chinook and Nanook, he says, go everywhere with him, even helping out by pulling him uphill when he’s unable to pedal due to his artificial hip and busted knee.

He’s also found kindness along the way, including during his stop in Kentville, where David from Butts Auto repaired his car, free of charge.

“I’m a lone rider, I do everything on my own, but he was great and helped me,” Westphal said.

Through it all, he’s tried to raise a few dollars through donations to cover his next trip home, but most of all, he wanted to raise inspiration.

“I want people to do what you like to do and I like to find out how far I can go,” he said.

It puts him in the right frame of mind, he adds, as he battles cancer.

“Your mood stays much better and that gives you a better chance to fight cancer,” Westphal explained.

“I accept cancer is part of my body – when you accept things, you can change it.”


Heading home

Westphal will remain in the province until Sept. 25, when he’s scheduled to fly home to Germany from Halifax. There, he’ll have yet another cancer operation for the reoccurring melanoma.

“They say I’ll have another six to 12 months to live,” he said, a small smile playing on his face as he shrugged. “Maybe I’ll die.”

Westphal said he didn’t fear death when he set out 26 years ago. That’s changed, however.

“It’s sad, but it’s the way it is. I’m really afraid this time – when I did by trip in 1987, I was not afraid of death. Maybe this time it will come, that happens as you get older,” he said.

In the meantime, however, he’s determined to spread his message of hope. Westphal has gathered letters from people around the world who have found his story inspiring.

“I had letters that encouraged me to keep going,” he said. “Now I need someone to inspire me. But there is no one crazy like me.”