A huge dust plume trailed behind Mike Hedin’s Kawasaki as he rode hard and fast. He was on a mission. He was on the final leg of his once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip. But by the time he reached Lima, Peru, the cancer had nested in his lungs, spine and brain. He was done riding. He returned to Edmond and on January 10th, he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends.
When Mike started his epic Alaska-to-South-America trip, he had no idea cancer was growing in his body. But it was. By all appearances, life was great for this former Marine sniper and master dive instructor. He was a partner in two thriving businesses in Oklahoma City, he had hobbies most guys dream of and he had great friends and family. So it’s no surprise that when he got the news that he was sick—terminally sick—he didn’t slow down. He accelerated and set out to do everything he ever wanted to do.
Mike was big on adventure. And it was on one of his adventures that he noticed some unusual pain in his hip and shoulder. It was the beginning of May and he was participating in the One Lap of America, which is sort of a “Cannonball Run” rally race across the country. At first, the pain didn’t concern him much, but by the end of the month, he was coughing up blood.
A trip to Integris Hospital confirmed there was something very wrong with Mike. Small cell lung cancer had spread to his bones, spine, hip, shoulders and brain. Not good news at all. Some men may have crumbled or wallowed in self pity. Not Mike. His cousin Chris Lewis remembers Mike talking to a pastor at an auto racing event, “He told the pastor he couldn’t think of a better guy to get this kind of news. He said, ‘I have no wife, no kids—no one’s dependent on me.’” That wasn’t entirely true, as Mike was very close to several people, including his cousins and a particular ex-con named Bud.
Mike and his cousin, Chris Lewis, owned a street cleaning business and a janitorial service in Oklahoma City. These successful ventures afforded Mike the opportunity to both pursue his adventures and change people’s lives. In this case, change came in the form of offering second chances to ex-cons, many who had served lengthy prison sentences. Bud was one of those ex-cons. Upon his release from prison, Bud was given an employment opportunity by Mike. “It was the second chance I needed,” Bud recalls.
That was eight years ago. Bud is now married, has his own home and is one of the top men at the company that believed in him and gave him a fresh start. “When I started, we were employer and employee. We learned a lot about each other. We actually had similar backgrounds. Mike made me a better person,” said Bud. Over the years, we got to be like brothers. I miss him.” The most important thing Bud learned from Mike was that “there’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed.”
So with the limited time Mike knew he had, he continued to knock items off his bucket list. Next up was the desire to take some very fast laps with a very talented race car driver, named Leh Keen. Favors were called in and stars somehow aligned—and in July, Leh and Mike took those very fast laps in a Nissan GTR during a special session at the Road Atlanta track.
Then in August, there was that ‘65 Mustang race car that needed a new home. Mike always wanted a classic Mustang Fastback and they found one in New Jersey. So Mike and Chris bought one-way tickets, did the deal and drove the classic race car back from the Garden State, turning the purchase into a road trip to remember. “We drove 1,400 miles straight, only stopping for gas and food—and one sheriff deputy in Ohio,” Chris recalls. “We were well over the speed limit. I thought he was going to write us up, then Mike explained to the trooper we were driving his ‘cancer car.’ We got off with a warning.”
And, of course, there was still the motorcycle trip to South America to complete. And that’s where the adventure ends. But even in death, Mike had adventures planned for others. Mike had trusts and investments. Mike had savings. He left everything to Bud, the felon who became like a brother to him. Bud recalls the moment. “This might sound strange, but I really wasn’t surprised. We were so close. That’s just Mike. That’s how he was.”
Chris says if Mike had a message for anyone reading this, it would probably be to live in the now, don’t put off things you want to do, and experience all life has to offer. Sounds like great advice for the journey.