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Riders Shake Off Health Issues to Compete Again at Armed Forces Cycling Classic

The 20th Armed Forces Cycling Classic will take place in Arlington this weekend, and one of its former champions is set to get back in the saddle.

Jake Keough, a three-time winner of the Crystal Cup race, will be cycling in it for the first time since he was forced into retirement three years ago due to an irregular heartbeat.

“After being a professional for 10-plus years, I began to have heart arrhythmias…I had major complications,” Keough wrote in an email.

Keough will be cycling with Team Skyline, run by the acclaimed bicyclist Ryan DeWald. DeWald, like Keough, suffers from another chronic medical condition: Type 1 diabetes. Both were diagnosed in 2014 and took time away.

“I got thin. I got sick. I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” DeWald said. “I missed one weekend of racing then I got back on my bike, I got on insulin, I re-sorted out how to race my bike on insulin. I worked with some of the best doctors in the world.”

When DeWald re-entered the cycling realm after his brief hiatus, he made an immediate impact. In 2015, he was ranked third nationally as a Category One rider, out of 1,475 cyclists.

Despite that impressive statistic, DeWald remembers when everybody told him to stop biking. He refused to take their advice.

“I had nothing to lose so I just kept racing the bike. Now, I’m turning more into an inspirational athlete with dynamic speaking skills,” DeWald said.

He hopes to eventually transfer out of bike racing and take on more leadership roles.

DeWald started the foundation, Winning the Race with Diabetes, to help people manage Type 1 diabetes while also engaging in athletic lifestyles. In addition to running Team Skyline, he runs a team bike shop in Reading, Penn.

While DeWald was getting back on his bike, Keough underwent cardiac ablation surgery. The procedure caused him to go into cardiac arrest.

“I was told by the best sports cardiologists in the world that I could never be an athlete again and that I should live a sedentary life,” Keough wrote.

Yet, Keough persisted. He takes medication to keep his heart rate low and has a sprinter plate on his chest.

“I’m back racing on my own terms and trying not to let my health issues dictate how I live my life,” Keough wrote.

“I think he’s taking his life into his own hands every time he sprints…I think he’s a few steps away from winning a big one,” DeWald said of his teammate. And after years apart, the men rekindled their friendship via social media this past winter.

“He was telling me about what happened to him, he asked me about my condition and we started comparing notes,” DeWald said.

Shortly thereafter, Keough joined DeWald’s team. Team Skyline rides about 15,000 miles per year and races 50-60 events annually.

This weekend’s race will not be Keough’s first since leaving retirement. However, he remains surprised by his recent success.

“I didn’t really plan on making a comeback. But, after racing Speed Week this spring and finishing fifth at Athens Twilight and fourth overall, I realized I could still be a factor at the top level of the sport I love,” Keough wrote.

Skyline is hopeful for this weekend. Keough’s youngest brother, Luke Keough, will also be participating this weekend, on a different team.

“Obviously, as a former winner, the goal is to get back to the top step. But, more importantly, it’s to have a blast,” Keough wrote.

“We’re going to try to win,” DeWald said. “Jake has just got to beat his brother [in the race]. How hard can it be to beat your younger brother?”

The Armed Forces Cycling Classic consists of two days of races: the Clarendon Cup on Saturday, in Clarendon, and the Crystal Cup and non-competitive Challenge Ride on Sunday, in Crystal City. The pro-am races, along with corresponding kids races and the Challenge Ride, are open to spectators.

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