Kris Lenzo is a fixture in Oak Park and you've probably been touched by his presence whether you know him personally or not. He is frequently wheeling around the area with family in tow, a child on his lap, another in a trailer. He's obviously fit and confident, but unassuming at the same time. Allow me to introduce you.
A child of the 70's, Kris grew up in the Detroit area with four other siblings. He was a typically active kid, swimming and working out through high school, and was inspired by his older brother who had cycled from Detroit to Washington, DC to New York in the mid 70's. Kris followed suit and completed five self-supported cycle trips with various friends before he turned 19. Today you can pay someone to map out a route and carry your gear for you. At the least you can buy cycle touring maps which plot out preferred routes and campgrounds/hotels (www.adventurecycling.com), but back then, he'd piece together a route using ordinary road maps and they'd sleep wherever they found a peaceful plot of land to camp. The mindset he developed then of getting there by his own human power still exists in him today.
A worksite accident when he was 19 left him with no legs and the consequent infection caused him to waste away in his upper body leaving him weak. While the first few months after his accident had its ups and downs, Kris says it was pretty soon that though he doubted he could ever be involved in athletics again, he knew he could be fit and he began concentrating on regaining his strength. A physical therapist worked with him during his 6-week hospital stay, pushing him hard to improve his core and overall strength, which he was going to need to push his chair and to be agile for transferring in and out of it.
Kris continued his workouts when he got home and added a loop around the block in his then very heavy chair. The chair and his lack of stamina made this a formidable task, but little by little he got stronger and fitter.
That was 27 years ago. Today, Kris is active, fit, strong and positive. He competed in wheelchair basketball until just last year, when a nagging shoulder injury finally caused him to retire. He participated in track and road racing through '87, qualifying for nationals in various events. He's completed four marathons, winning the Detroit Free Press marathon in '80, and qualifying to compete in Boston, which he did in '83. He tied for fifth overall and took second among U.S. participants. He's done the Michigander three times, which is a cycle event across the state of Michigan. He's also active with the dance group Momenta, through the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park.
Today, Kris' goals are to continue to get stronger and to do another self-supported cycle tour some day. He works out with weights 2-4 times per week, and cycles 4-5 times per week, mostly outdoors. When he doesn't have time to get outside, he sits behind his home stationary cycle and pedals with his arms.
What's interesting about Kris is his mindset and his energy. At the end of our interview, I asked him about quality of life and fitness. He said, "Five percent of people are exercising enough, 95 percent are not. If you walked or wheeled to get around when you can, your quality of life goes up." One of the reasons he loves Oak Park is because it's conducive to getting around without your car, sometimes to the chagrin of his preteen daughter who recently asked him, "Why can't we drive like normal people?"
To which Kris replied, "Because we're not normal people ? "
All that and he builds character, too.