Riding for a cause

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Fatcyclist.com blogger Elden Nelson has vowed to continue fighting cancer after the recent death of his wife, Susan.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

It was a message thousands expected would someday come, yet none wanted to hear it.

"Susan died 7:25pm," Elden Nelson, better known as the Fat Cyclist, said via his Twitter account at 8:03 p.m. on Aug. 5. "Her battle with cancer is over. Mine just got more intense. FIGHT LIKE SUSAN."

It was a message that hit thousands of people — most complete strangers — like a punch to the stomach. Despite distance and relative anonymity, Nelson is a bit of a celebrity and has been waging a very public battle against cancer, the disease that claimed his wife just eight days before they would have celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary.

Since that time, and well before it, Nelson has received tens of thousands of e-mails, text messages and replies to his blog expressing support and sympathies.

Fatcyclist.com, the blog he has written for several years, is one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. Visitors come to the site to vicariously follow Nelson's two passions — cycling and fighting cancer.

It started out as nothing more than an effort to lose weight.

It is much more than that now, though.

Nelson — an avid cyclist and talented writer — found himself huffing, puffing and pushing his bike — rather than riding it — up the White Rim Trail at Canyonlands National Park and saw his riding partners easily climbing the very trail he also used to ascend without trouble.

"I had this gut hanging over my shorts and I thought 'This has to change,' " he said.

And with that realization Fatcyclist.com was born.

Nelson is no longer fat, however, and Fatcyclist.com is no longer a blog dedicated to losing a few pounds and telling bicycle-related jokes to a handful of friends who occasionally visited the Web site.

Instead, Fatcyclist.com has grown, and Nelson, as much as he wishes he weren't, has become publisher of one of the most popular sports-related blogs on the Internet — regularly seeing more than 30,000 unique page views per day and topping the 100,000 mark a few times.

The "success" of the blog — for lack of a better term — has come as Nelson's focus shifted from writing about his bicycling adventures and weight to chronicling the battle with cancer his wife fought for years before passing away Aug. 5.

"I come to terms with things by trying to crystallize them in text," Nelson, who buried his wife on Monday, said, explaining how the blog became a way for him to cope with the fight he shared. Susan, also wanting to raise awareness of the disease that slowly and painfully killed her, encouraged Elden to share their story on the blog. "She was thinking of others by letting me do this."

In the process of telling the story, Fatcyclist.com has become one of the most popular cycling blogs on the Internet — winning the 2008 and '09 Bloggie Award for best sports blog — and inspired thousands to join the fight against the disease.

"I don't care too much about breaking records," Nelson, whose Team Fatty has raised nearly $600,000 this year alone in donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. "But a lot of people have read the blog and gotten behind a guy that's kind of just like them. … Cancer impacts a lot of people, and they see this as a way to get involved."

Nelson, a BYU graduate and father of four children, fought cancer with his wife on more than one occasion. After breast cancer hit the family hard a few years ago, they thought they were in the clear and were moving on with life.

But in August of 2007, Susan just didn't feel right. She had some trouble walking and didn't have the energy she was used to.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere