2012 EL TOUR DE TUCSON MARKS 5 YEARS TOGETHER

Patrick Finley: Legally blind bicyclist, wife on a life journey built for two

2012-11-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:35:19Z Patrick Finley: Legally blind bicyclist, wife on a life journey built for twoPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Kasey and Erin Hopper's legs quivered the moment they were to marry.

They were sweating profusely. Their fingers wouldn't stop trembling.

Nervous? Nah.

"I tried to put the ring on, and my hands were shaking," Kasey said. "I was just so tired."

Five years ago Saturday, the couple finished the 109-mile El Tour de Tucson cycling race in 10 hours, 37 minutes, last among tandem cyclists.

They parked their blue bike and found a grassy patch nearby.

Twenty friends and family members hummed "Here Comes the Bride."

After finishing their first race - twice as long as any ride they'd made in seven months of training - the Hoppers stayed in their cycling Spandex, holding a candle as the sun set.

Erin wore her mother's veil, repurposed as a scrunchy, and they were wed by their favorite priest.

They drove to a hotel and fell asleep in their dinner salads.

"I don't think either one of us really remember the wedding," Erin said.

It was the happiest, most exhausting day of their lives.

"What better way to show her my trust," Kasey said, "than to stand next to her and say, 'I will be your husband because you just got me through 109 miles as my captain?' "

Unlike most couples, the Hoppers ride their tandem with the woman in front, steering and shifting and shouting orders.

Kasey sits in the back, pedaling. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age 10, and is legally blind.

He uses a cane at night. His vision has deteriorated since the two met seven years ago, and will only get worse. It could disintegrate fully tomorrow, or 20 years from now.

Kasey doesn't like to tell people; he was once kicked out of a Portland restaurant after walking into an object.

He left rather than tell the bouncer he wasn't drunk.

"You can't turn your back on it," he said. "On the other hand, it's not who I am."

The 31-year-old had all but abandoned athletics before he met Erin at a job site in Oregon. After moving to Tucson, they bought the blue tandem on a whim.

They liked it so much they entered the 2007 El Tour with limited training, and scheduled their wedding for the finish line.

(They did the whole wedding-dress-and-reception thing seven months later, in Lake Tahoe, near his family.)

Now they can't imagine their lives together without riding down the street, listening to each other's hard rock and hip-hop music, and pedaling in sync.

"That signifies what a marriage is like," said Erin, 30, who attended Catalina Foothills High School and now works for Pima County Superior Court. "You start off and you're really excited; you're excited to be married, then about halfway through, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't stand this person anymore.' "

They both laughed.

There are days they get on the bike annoyed, but they feel better by the time their ride ends.

"Especially on an eight-hour bike ride, we have to talk through it," said Kasey, who works at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. "That transfers over to our personal lives."

Isn't that wonderful?

They bowl together, too, and used to lead the church music group.

They took dance class together when they lived in upstate New York before moving back to Tucson in May. They ride Sundays, even when Kasey's beloved Buffalo Bills are playing.

In 2008, the couple was three miles from finishing the Cochise Classic when Erin's legs just wouldn't move any more. She'd hit the wall.

"I had to say, 'Don't even pedal, and I took her the rest of the way,' " Kasey said. "That's one of my favorite moments, because it's working in tandem.

"We can't get there without each other. I can't get in the front and steer. And she couldn't pedal."

The Hoppers will spend their fifth anniversary Saturday riding El Tour's longest event - this time 111 miles. His dad and her mom will ride, too, to celebrate.

Kasey and Erin's marriage, and bodies, are strong. They've each lost 40 or 50 pounds since they started riding five years ago.

They'll be on the same blue tandem, which used to bear a sticker of the now-defunct "Father's Heart Church."

When it closed, they peeled off two words.

Now it just says "Heart," and isn't that perfect?

"It gives me happiness, it gives her happiness," Kasey said. "It keeps our marriage strong.

"I don't think we'll ever stop."

If you go

• What: The University of Arizona Medical Center 30th El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino del Sol Resort

• When: Saturday

• What: Five races: 111 miles, 85 miles, 60 miles, 42 miles and fun rides

• Info: perimeterbicycling.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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