British Columbia

Senior who defied Parkinson's disease and cycled across Canada dies of COVID-19

When he was 81, Dan McGuire cycled across Canada to prove people with Parkinson's disease could still be active and accomplish their goals. He died of COVID-19 on Dec. 12.

Dan McGuire, 88, 'wanted to prove that people with Parkinson's could still be mobile,' his daughter says

When asked by a CBC reporter why he rode 10,000 kilometres across Canada, Dan McGuire said 'it's important to have a purpose.' (Submitted/Tara McGuire)

Seven years ago, before Parkinson's disease stole his mobility and COVID-19 stole his last breath, then 81-year-old Dan McGuire spent two summers biking across Canada.

His daughter, Tara McGuire, couldn't really understand her father's desire to touch the outer reaches of this huge country. The endless pedalling under the beating summer sun, the wind, the burning in his thighs — it was a lot for a man with arthritis in his knees, scoliosis in his spine and the beginning of the disease that, she said, would leave him curled over like a "skinny grieving question mark."

Besides, he'd already done the journey before, years earlier. Why do it again?

"Because I love Canada," was his explanation for it, she said.

McGuire started in 2013 at the Top of the World Highway in Yukon, the most western road in Canada. As his disease progressed, he traded in his road bike for a recumbent bike and sometimes drank his beer at the end of the day through a straw.

But 10,000 kilometres later, he rolled up to Cape Spear Lighthouse in Newfoundland. When a local CBC reporter asked him why he did it, he said "it's important to have a purpose."

McGuire, 88, died on Dec. 12 of COVID-19 at his long-term care home in Coquitlam. He leaves behind his wife, June Gallagher, six children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He was an engineer for much of his career, but his passion was cycling. McGuire was a member of the B.C. Randonneurs Cycling Club and the Vancouver Bicycle Club.

When he could no longer do long trips, he was active as a board member and volunteer.

"He wanted to prove that people with Parkinson's could still be mobile," his daughter said. 

She made sure that message resonated, sharing her father's story on CBC's The Vinyl Cafe in 2015. 

McGuire celebrating his birthday, two weeks before his death. (Submitted/Tara McGuire)

'It was very aggressive'

McGuire had been living in long-term care for the past year. Recently, the facility had a COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, Tara was FaceTiming with her father and could tell he wasn't feeling well. 

He tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 9, three days before he died.

"It was very aggressive. It took him very, very quickly," Tara said. "He just couldn't breathe anymore."

Tara was able to visit her father shortly before his death. He was grateful to see her because, other than his partner June, she was the first family member he'd seen in person in nine months due to restrictions, she said.

He was "old" but vibrant, she said. He celebrated his birthday two weeks before his death, with a big chocolate cake, poetry and jokes. His residence would have received the vaccine in the coming days or weeks, she said.

Were it not for COVID-19, she believes he'd still be alive. 

He will be remembered for his accomplishments in cycling, Tara said, and for the traits she admired in him: his curiosity, work ethic and love for the outdoors. 

She will also never forget those who cared for him during an exceptionally challenging time.  

"When I was there, the nurse came in and he touched my dad. He stroked his arms and he was very kind and respectful. 'Mr. McGuire, how are you doing? I'm here to look after you,'" Tara said.

"I'm just so grateful, for not only just the physical work, but the warmth ... they were always just really sweet and kind. And that goes a long way."