Harry Baulisch rides with cyclists half his age. The 63-year-old’s weekly social calendar is dotted with biking activities.
But looking the part of a youthful, healthy and active person hasn’t always been the case for the Papillion man.
He suffered a heart attack 13 years ago that caused so much internal damage doctors feared he would die within a year. Then he had a colon cancer scare that required multiple surgeries. And two years ago, Baulisch, who was carrying extra weight around his middle, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
He decided enough was enough. Baulisch started watching his carbohydrate intake and making healthier food choices. He also took up cycling.
Those changes helped Baulisch lose nearly 75 pounds. His family, and his doctor, believe he may have saved his own life.
“I’m really proud of the strides he’s made in his health,” said Baulisch’s daughter, Nikki Rasmussen of Plano, Texas. “He’s always been the type of person that when he puts his mind to something, he will succeed.”
Baulisch feels better now than he did in his 30s and advocates that people make lifestyle changes no matter their age. He shares his story in the hopes of helping others suffering from health problems.
Baulisch, who was born in Omaha, was a career military man who moved often. Since he had an active job, he never worried much about his health or his weight.
But it began to catch up with him after a 1991 tobogganing crash in California, where he lived while serving in the Navy. The accident crushed two vertebrate and left him struggling with mobility for six months. His weight started to climb.
“I was in my 40s and had gotten that middle-aged spread,” Baulisch said. “And then after the accident, I just gained a lot of weight.”
When Baulisch was 50, he suffered a heart attack. Doctors told him he had a 27 percent chance of living another year. There was talk of sending him to an assisted living facility. Instead, he walked, made healthier food choices and slowly began to get better. But that first year, carrying a gallon of milk was a struggle.
Several years later, he experienced another health setback.
Baulisch was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009. After several surgeries, doctors were able to remove the cancer cells. Still, he felt discouraged, like his body was betraying him.
His health issues continued two years ago, when Baulisch was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
“I remember thinking that contracting this disease could be the last straw for me,” he said.
By monitoring his food intake, especially carbs, and keeping a food journal, Baulisch began to lose weight and feel better. After he moved to Nebraska in March 2015, he took up cycling. His bike became his main source of both recreation and transportation — and that’s when things really started to change.
Weight dropped off. Now, the 6-foot-1-inch man weighs about 165 pounds. He gained strength and cardiovascular fitness. And his heart health improved: Today, his cardiologist says Baulisch’s heart functions the same as someone who never had a heart attack. He has surpassed the typical life expectancy of a heart attack patient, his doctor said.
“He is far more healthy than most people his age,” said Dr. Eric Van De Graaf, a cardiologist for CHI Health in Omaha.
Cycling has allowed Baulisch to become a role model for others who have diabetes, said Kayla Zebrowski with the American Diabetes Association’s Nebraska chapter. Baulisch is active in the organization as a volunteer.
“He talks about cycling all the time,” Zebrowski said. “He knows if he quits cycling, he’ll be back to where he started.”
Baulisch rides his bike 26 miles round trip every day from his house to Omaha Bicycle Co. in Benson to drink coffee and chat with other people who love bikes. He also does weekly rides with the younger cyclists, often heading up to Ponca Hills and hitting not-so-easy trails. They’re often surprised to learn his age.
“Some of the 30- and 40-somethings say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were so old,’ ” Baulisch chuckled. “But then they say, ‘You don’t look your age because you are doing things to try and preserve your youth.’ ”