Grad student pedals with a purpose

Geared up for a good cause
November 12, 2013

Bradley Hintze thrives on the adrenaline of moving with a purpose. In October, he pedaled 75 miles of rural road in coastal North Carolina for Ride Without Limits, an ultimate cycling event that benefits children and adults who struggle with disabilities.

This year marked Hintze’s third time as cyclist and advocate for Ride Without Limits. Since 2011, he has raised thousands of dollars in pledges to support Easter Seals UCP North Carolina, an organization that promotes respect and opportunities for people living with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Down syndrome, and other disabilities.

“Disabled children and adults live in a world for able-bodied children and adults,” says Hintze. “They don’t live in a world created for them.” He finds this is especially true given the current political climate in North Carolina, where funding has been cut for programs like Medicaid that assist people withmental and physical impairments.

Willing and able: Graduate student Bradley Hintze pedals for pledges. Will Preslar

Hintze is intimately familiar with the challenges of living with a disability. At birth, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Then, around age fifteen, he developed cervical dystonia, a neurological disorder that distorts muscles in the neck and head. Together, the conditions affect his speech, balance, and fine motor coordination. “Going through puberty is hard enough and then this on top of it.... It was difficult,” he recalls. But his negative perception of himself was the most debilitating part. “Whether or not you’re disabled, confidence is an issue.”

The disabilities have not kept him from pursuing daunting physical feats. Besides cycling, Hintze loves hiking the mountains near his hometown of Salt Lake City. This past summer he scaled Lone Peak, considered the deadliest mountain in Utah, for the third time.

He also climbed his way from being a kid who only dreamed of attending college to a fifth-year Ph.D. student in biochemistry at Duke. Lacking fine motor precision, Hintze can’t handle the petri dishes and pipettes you would find in a typical lab. Instead, he works with computational software, developing ways to improve crystallography, a method of using x-rays to study ultra-tiny protein structures. Unable to write and ineffectual with a keyboard, he devised a way to take notes using the swipe function on his smartphone. “You really learn to adapt,” he says. “You’re faced with a problem and you come up with these creative solutions.” 

“A lot of the limitations that people put on themselves only exist in their head,” he adds. “You’ve got to believe in yourself.”

  • Elizabeth '11 is a writer in New York. She previously worked as a senior editorial fellow for The Trace and a staff writer for Duke Magazine.