Santa Rosa cyclist Paul Stimson dies at 62
Less than two months before he died from a neurological disease, Paul Stimson threw a big party for himself — a bit like having your own funeral while you’re still alive — and invited all his friends to come and celebrate his life with him.
The April event at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building drew close to 200 people, a kind of who’s who of the Sonoma County bicycling community, including former pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer. They came to honor Stimson, an accomplished amateur rider and racer, who was dying from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Cycling was only one chapter in the life of Stimson, who died Wednesday at the age of 62. He was attracted to challenging and exhilarating physical pursuits, from rock and ice wall climbing, to team skydiving, slalom skiing, surfing and scuba diving.
The Santa Rosa man faced his end with some of the same courage and stamina it took for the extreme sports he thrived on, choosing to stop eating and drinking until nature took its course, rather than prolonging his life with a feeding tube, ventilator and artificial breathing machine.
“He decided long ago, he didn’t want to get a feeding tube. He wasn’t Stephen Hawking. He didn’t want to live in his mind only,” said his wife of 25 years, Mary Jane Stimson. “I don’t blame him. He was incredibly active. He would just go crazy.”
Without the option of assisted suicide, she said, “the only choice in California is to stop eating and drinking. It’s not a fun thing to watch or experience. It’s very difficult.”
Stimson was beloved in the local cycling community for his mentoring and coaching, including for fundraising rides that benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But he was also respected for his accomplishments, completing 19 “double centuries” — grueling 200-mile, one-day rides like the “Terrible Two,” which takes in some of the steepest climbs in Sonoma and Napa counties.
Stimson, however was much more than an avid long-distance cyclist and athlete.
He spent a summer mining gold in the Yukon Territory, was a charter sailboat captain in the Caribbean and became an instrument-rated airplane pilot. He had a career as a land surveyor.
He also loved photography, bird-watching, flower arranging, Haiku poetry and Zen meditation.
“He could do things that weren’t adrenaline,” said his wife.
But over the past 18 years or so, cycling was his passion, beginning with mountain biking and cross-country races before he transitioned to road bikes.
He first participated in a Team-in-Training (TNT) fundraising ride to fight blood cancers in 2006, at the Tour de Tucson, and would go on to coach and ride with others at similar events, including century rides around Lake Tahoe and the so-called Death Ride, a 127-mile, one-day ride over some of the higher mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada that he completed five times.
Sometimes he would stop to talk to fatigued riders who were on the verge of giving up and help coax them over the climb.
“He was a very gracious rider, very respectful, extremely strong, stronger than most,” said Santa Rosa physician Bill Carroll, a friend of Stimson’s for the past six years. “Yet he was the kind of guy who would wait for you as a cyclist and do what he could do to improve your riding in a very respectful way.”