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Cyclist back in the saddle and 'Breaking Away' at 78

Saturday, hundreds of cyclists will take part in the annual Ride Across Indiana, also known as RAIN.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Dave Blase turns 79 in September, but that's just another day on the calendar for the lifelong cyclist. For now, he's focused on gearing up for his first RAIN ride - or Ride Across Indiana.

"I'm just getting my miles in, trying to," he said from from his northeast side home.

Saturday's ride starts at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute and crosses the state to Earlham College in Richmond. That's 160 miles all in one day."I should be able to get through it, it's just how much suffering I will endure," Blase said.

Blase has done plenty of long-distance rides over the course of his life and brought home several trophies but hasn't ridden 100 miles or more "in a number of years."

Still, the lean, silver-haired athlete is no stranger to cycling. In fact, while you may not know his name, you probably know the movie he inspired - "Breaking Away," that classic coming-of-age film shot in Bloomington and built around Indiana University's 1962 Little 500 Bicycle Race.

The Dave Stoller character was loosely on Dave Blase, who rode 139 of the 200 laps leading his fraternity team to victory.

He says of the film, "it's really about the problems youth have growing up and I certainly had my problems with self image and all."

But Blase said he found an outlet in cycling, an activity he was both passionate about and excelled in.

"I'm not sure if I'd have finished college if I had not discovered this thing," he said.

Unlike the movie "Dave," Blase wasn't from Bloomington, wasn't a "Cutter" - or local - but he loved everything Italian, including opera, and still does.

"Even when I would be on the road, riding up and down roads it would be, 'la, la, lah, lahhh...," he said starting to sing.

Music was in his heart, but so was something else that wouldn't be revealed for many years later. Unzipping his riding jersey he points to a scar down the middle of his chest.

"Believe it or not, I can't even feel my scar anymore...I think it's healed pretty well," he said.

Last October, a routine test uncovered a hidden problem. Blase's family on his father's side had a history of heart problems. Blase needed quadruple bypass surgery.

"It was a shocker, alright. I kept saying, 'How can it be?'" he said, noting that one doctor who saw the blockage exclaimed, "Why is this guy still alive??"

Blase stresses he "felt good at the time...there could have been warning signs and I'm probably thinking it just goes along with the territory" of the aches and pains riding hard for long distances.

While still in the hospital, Blase's cardiac surgeon, an avid cyclist himself, suggested they do RAIN together in July. Nine months later, Blase is back in the saddle and ready to go the distance.

Asked what keeps him going, heart surgery and all, he said, "the more I keep challenging myself, then the body tries to adapt to deliver what you're asking of it," he said. "If I sit around and try to save myself that's how I end up losing myself. It's like everything in life, the more you try to hold on to what you have the sooner you lose it."

And at 78, if he is slowing down, it sure doesn't show. We clocked him going 27 miles an hour and, of course, breaking away from the reporter trying to keep up.

Blase hopes to finish RAIN in 12 hours.

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