Bobby McMullen has battled Type 1 diabetes, loss of his vision, kidney failure, years of dialysis, two kidney/pancreas transplants, open-heart surgery, and beat back a particularly aggressive form of cancer. He has broken more bones than he can count. In spite of challenges that would take most people out, Bobby lives life full-on. He has long been a passionate extreme sport competitor — a tenacious adrenaline junkie who competes alongside fully able racers. While competing in many sports at many levels, his “life support” has long been his family, his friends, and his bike. Bobby is an inductee to the National Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame, and has been nominated to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
Born in Redding, California, Bobby now makes his home in Mill Valley. He is a natural athlete who was a high school sports star in spite of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12. Bobby attended Weber State University in Utah where he skied for the Wildcats ski team. He earned a degree in Political Science and returned to Northern California to begin law school.
In 1993, during his first year of law school, Bobby lost his eyesight as a result of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, a complication related to Type 1 diabetes. It was a sudden loss. He was totally blind in a month.
Undeterred from pursuing his love of sports, Bobby learned to ski with a guide. Within a year he qualified for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. He spent seven years as a member of the U.S. Team, was a two-time U.S. Disabled Overall Downhill champion, and competed in all four discplines (downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom) as part of the 1998 Nagano Paralympic ski team.
During competition in the 1996 World Disabled Alpine Championships in Austria, Bobby’s kidneys began to fail. He was on dialysis before the end of the year, and received his first double transplant (kidney and pancreas) in 1997.
Bobby was back on the ski circuit within months. He competed in the 1998 Paralympics in Nagano, Japan, taking fifth place in the Alpine downhill ski competition. He continued to race with the U.S. team until his body rejected his transplant organs in 2001. He endured another two years of dialysis before receiving his second double transplant in 2003.
Cycling has long been a big part of Bobby’s life. As a full-time athlete with the U.S. Disabled Ski Team it became an integral part of not only his physical conditioning routine, but also an essential tool in developing the “guide-follow” method of communication he uses with both ski and ride guides. This communication style fosters a level of personal connection and trust in competition. It is the same personal connection that Bobby shares with his audiences.
Following his second transplant, Bobby renewed his commitment to bike riding. He was competitive in 23 mountain bike races in the year following surgery, and has not slowed down since. He works with a “ride guide” who rides ahead of him and calls out obstacles. Since 2004, and until the birth of his daughter, Ella, Bobby raced in at least 25 downhill, cross-country, and 8- and 12-hour mountain bike events each year. The bike was once again a key tool for rehabilitation and ultimately much more.
Mountain bike riding demands extraordinary athleticism, coordination, focus and courage. Riding blind with a guide requires extraordinary faith and trust. Bobby exhibits all of these traits as he faces adversity on and off the bike.
Bobby’s participation in the 2005 Nissan XTERRA World Championship Mountain Bike Triathlon was covered in a CBS Sports Spectacular (February 2006). He has been featured in a number of publications, including Sports Illustrated, Decline Magazine, Bike Magazine, Dirt Rag Magazine, Mountain Biking UK Magazine, BIKE Magazin Germany, Los Angeles Times.com, New Zealand’s Spoke Magazine, and many others.
Bobby has had a long-time love affair with mountain biking, but is committed to road cycling as well. In 2006 he completed the 3,000-mile Race Across America, riding for Team Donate Life to raise money for transplant research. His team finished in seven days, four hours, coming in ninth out of 56 teams!
Bobby’s life and philosophies are subjects of the international award-winning documentary “The Way Bobby Sees It” (2008, Poison Oak Production). The film follows Bobby’s preparation for and competition in the 2007 Downieville Classic Mountain Bike Race, a 17-mile course said to be the country’s most challenging downhill race.
Bobby was featured in the 2009 film “Kranked 8: Revolve”, alongside the world’s top mountain bike riders, and was profiled in “Look to the Ground” (both from Radical Films – www.radical-films.com). He was also the subject of “Blinder Mountainbiker” a television special for Germany’s Galileo TV (roughly the equivalent of the U.S.’ Discovery Channel), which regularly screens across Europe. These films are available at the Ride Blind Racing YouTube channel.
Bobby spent the summer of 2010 in Europe where he raced the Euro Cup SuperEnduro in Sauze d’Oulx, Italy, followed by the Megavalanche race in Alpe d’Huez, France. He is the first visually impaired rider (let alone two-time double transplant recipient) ever to have competed in these races. The Megavalanche is one of the most extreme mtb races on the planet: 1,000 riders start at the same time for a race that drops more than 10,000 feet in 19 miles. It’s just plain nuts – Google it.
2012 threw some powerful obstacles in Bobby’s path. He underwent heart bypass surgery to unclog arteries, and later had a pacemaker inserted in his chest. He was diagnosed with cancer that metastasized to his lymph nodes and required multiple surgeries along with a radical regimen of radiation treatments.
Nevertheless, he came through not much worse for wear, still pedaling, still smiling and optimistic. He continued to participate in race events and to motivate others through speaking events.
Bobby married the love of his life, Heidi, in September of 2012, just days after his last radiation treatment. They welcomed daughter Ella Anne in 2014.
Bobby kicked off his 2013 season with the Queenstown Bike Festival in New Zealand followed by a series of race events in the U.S., Canada and Europe. He returned to France for a second run at the Megavalanche.
Bobby shares his life experiences and inspiration with audiences worldwide through speaking engagements, film screenings, seminars, camps, rides, mobility and orientation coaching. He has presented at corporate motivational events, for colleges and universities (as well as grammar schools and high schools), at film festivals and for community organizations.
With each of these adventures, Bobby has been able to increase awareness of and appreciation for issues faced by people with physical and cognitive disabilities. He has inspired and motivated thousands of people world-wide, and demonstrates daily all that is possible in life.
Today, Bobby is dedicated to being the best husband and father he can be, and continues his commitment to sport, family and friends.
Santa Cruz Bicycles, Wilderness Trail Bikes, Kali Protectives, SRSuntour, Lezyne, Giro, Clif, Wiley X, One Up Components, Rotor Cranks, Crankbrothers.
Bobby spoken on behalf of the Lighthouse for the Blind, American Association of Kidney Patients, BloodSource, American Diabetes Association, Da Vita Dialysis Centers, National Ability Center, Focus Film Festival, NorCalHigh School Mountain Bike League, and the Bay Area Outreach and Educational Program, the Windham Adaptive Sports Program, as well as support groups for disabled veterans.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTSTeam Affiliations:
- Santa Cruz Bicycles
- Team Donate Life (2006)
- U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team Member (1998) – Nagano, Japan
- U.S. Disabled Ski Team Member (1994-2001) – Championship Team 1996 and 2000
Cycling Competitions Include:
- Nissan Xterra World Championship Mountain Bike Triathalon – Spirit award
- Megavalanche (Alpe d’Huez, France) – First blind rider to race the Mega – Bobby has raced it TWICE!!!
- Euro Cup Super Enduro (Sauze d’Oulx, Italy – Inaugural event)
- UCI World Cup MTB Citizens’ Downhill (Windham, NY). Bobby not only rode the downhill, but was also keynote speaker for the first UCI World Cup downhill event held in the U.S.
- Crankworx (Whistler, B.C., Canada) – First blind rider to race Whistler. Bobby has been a Whistler regular for nearly 15 years.
- Downieville Classic Mountain Bike Race (Downieville, CA) – America’s longest and most demanding downhill mountain bike race – Bobby has raced Downieville 13 times.
- Queenstown Bike Festival, New Zealand
- Race Across America — Completed the 3,000+ mile bicycle race to raise awareness and raise money for transplant research
- Sea Otter Classic (Monterey, CA)
- U.S. Mountain Bike National Championship
Ski Competitions Include:
- 1998 Winter Paralympics (U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team) (placed fifth) – 1998 – Nagano, Japan
- U.S. Disabled World Cup Finals Medalist (Giant Slalom, Super G, Downhill)
- U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships Medalist (Two time Overall Downhill Champion, Overall Super G, Overall Combined, Blind Class Downhill, Blind Class Super G, Blind Class Giant Slalom)
- World Disabled Invitational Giant Slalom Medalist
- Western States Championships Medalist (Overall Giant Slalom, Slalom, Blind Giant Slalom, Blind Super G) – winner of Huntsman’s cup
- Columbia Crest Medalist (Giant Slalom, Blind Giant Slalom, Blind Super G)
- Western Regional Championships Medalist (Overall Slalom and Super G, Blind Slalom and Super G)
- Eastern States Nationals Medalist (Overall, Blind Super G)
- World Disabled Alpine Championships Medalist (Downhill, Giant Slalom, Super G)