Vickroy: Palos Park native cycling across continents for a cause
DONNA VICKROY email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 June 27, 2012 7:46PM
To follow Brendan Kay on his 8,000-mile bicycling adventure, visit
To learn more about the Hemochromatosis Society, visit www.americanhs.org
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:52AM
Just six days into his latest adventure, Brendan Kay was awakened at dawn, the booted toe of a security guard nudging him from his slumber.
He knew he was in trouble, judging by the tone of the Chinese officer. But spending the night at the base of China’s Great Wall was by far the coolest thing the Palos Park native had done in a long time.
And that’s saying something.
Brendan and his friend Ben Shuker, of Australia, are on a six-month bicycle trek that began May 21 in Shanghai, China, and will end some time in November in Dublin, Ireland.
You might say Brendan, 29, was born under a restless star. He attended St. Alexander School in Palos Heights, where he wrestled and played football, baseball and basketball. He helped lead his Providence High School wrestling team to a state championship.
Since graduating from Butler University in Indianapolis, he has traveled the globe, teaching English, learning customs and making friends. He’s been to Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Argentina and Australia, to name a few places.
Always one to express himself through adventure, Brendan began planning a bicycle ride across two continents last Christmas after visiting a beloved uncle who is suffering from hemochromatosis.
Often called “the curse of the Irish” because it afflicts northern Europeans, particularly those of Irish descent, hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition that causes the body to absorb too much iron, often forcing it to be stored in the liver, heart and pancreas.
Brendan, whose uncle awaits a liver transplant, hopes his 8,000-mile ride will raise funds for the Hemochromatosis Society and raise awareness of the need for testing. Some 43 million Americans who have the gene mutation have not been diagnosed, according to the Hemochromatosis Society.
Brendan’s mother, Julie Ready Kay, said that when she and her husband Walter first learned of their youngest child’s newest endeavor, they were concerned.
“Bicycling is something new for him,” she said. “But he’s in great shape. He’s been running marathons for several years.”
Julie said Brendan has always been a loving and caring human being.
“He was our wild child,” Julie said.
“Daredevil” and “risk-taker” describe him well.
“He got into some trouble, lots of pranks, as a kid,” she said. “But as naughty as he could be, he always had a good heart.”
Brendan’s oldest sibling, Marita Chester, is a project manager for a technology firm. She and her husband live in Orland Park. His brother, Tom, is an attorney and resides with his wife in Gainesville, Fla. And his sister Meg Kay Stacey is a neurology resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She and her husband live in Chicago.
Julie said Brendan, who has dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, struggled through the academics of school. But he was adept in social circles.
Growing up, she said, he was always close to his uncle, Kevin Ready.
When her brother was diagnosed, Julie said, she did some research and learned there were other cases of this disease on both her mother’s and her father’s sides of the family.
“Yet, outside of Irish circles, few people have heard of it,” she said.
She’s certain that will change with Brendan’s latest adventure, which will take him through Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, England and Ireland.
He is blogging when he can, and Julie said they were able to Skype with him on Father’s Day, when he thanked his dad for teaching him how to ride a bicycle.
With a month under his wheels, Julie said Brendan already has made a bunch of new friends. He’s also recovered from a faulty wheel on his new bike. It had to replaced with a new one — a considerable feat in rural China.
On his blog, Brendan describes his night at Jiayuguan, the fifth pit stop along the way:
“We rode up to the tourist area of the Great Wall at 8 p.m. just as it was closing so we could eat a bag of noodles and drink a beer just as the sun was setting. We then decided to make friends with the security guards, thinking they would be impressed with us and let us stay there and camp on the Great Wall hassle free. We were wrong!
“This is when we decided to stash our bikes in some bushes and sneak back in, ninja style. We scaled a fence and quietly walked back up to the Great Wall. We laid out our mats, sat against the wall overlooking the city (with a bottle of Great Wall wine in hand) and had a laugh at all those who told us we needed to train before setting off on this adventure.”