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Dirty Dozen cycling challenge hits 13 steep hills around Pittsburgh

Tom Fontaine
| Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Cat Culkin, 24, of Ann Arbor, Mich., makes it up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Cat Culkin, 24, of Ann Arbor, Mich., makes it up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Mike Kozak, 32, of East Liberty gets encouragement to make it up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Mike Kozak, 32, of East Liberty gets encouragement to make it up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
A rider falls during his attempt up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A rider falls during his attempt up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
The second stage of riders leaves the  Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The second stage of riders leaves the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
The first stage of riders fights their way up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The first stage of riders fights their way up Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Jeremy Kirchin, 50, of Seven Fields waits at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jeremy Kirchin, 50, of Seven Fields waits at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Jeremiah Sullivan readies his Healthy Ride bicycle at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Sullivan rode the dirty dozen on a Healthy Ride bike.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jeremiah Sullivan readies his Healthy Ride bicycle at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Sullivan rode the dirty dozen on a Healthy Ride bike.
Joe Bonadio, 93, of Beechview sweeps Canton Avenue during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Bonadio has swept Pittsburgh's steepest hill on race day since it's first year in 1983.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Joe Bonadio, 93, of Beechview sweeps Canton Avenue during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Bonadio has swept Pittsburgh's steepest hill on race day since it's first year in 1983.
Leif Gerjoy, 65, of Squirrel Hill plays the washboard as part of the Colonel Eagleburgers Highstepping Goodtime Band at the top of Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leif Gerjoy, 65, of Squirrel Hill plays the washboard as part of the Colonel Eagleburgers Highstepping Goodtime Band at the top of Canton Avenue in Beechview during Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.
Dirty Dozen founder, Danny Chew addresses the racers via the internet at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Chew is currently recovering in Chicago from an injury that left him paralyzed in a bike accident in Ohio.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dirty Dozen founder, Danny Chew addresses the racers via the internet at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park at the start of Pittsburgh's annual Dirty Dozen Bicycle race, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Chew is currently recovering in Chicago from an injury that left him paralyzed in a bike accident in Ohio.

Jeremiah Sullivan always found keeping his weight in check to be an uphill battle.

“I was a big kid my entire life,” said Sullivan, 29, of West View.

So it's fitting that Sullivan punctuated his 106-pound weight loss over the past 20 months by participating in Saturday's Dirty Dozen challenge, in which more than 400 cyclists climbed 13 of the steepest hills in and around Pittsburgh.

And it's equally fitting that Sullivan rode the Dirty Dozen course on a rented Healthy Ride bike, which isn't built for such rugged, grueling competitions. Sullivan got fit by renting Healthy Ride bikes available through Pittsburgh's bike-share system and riding them around the city during his lunch breaks at work.

Dirty Dozen's monster climbs included Rialto Street in Troy Hill, Sycamore Street in Mt. Washington and Beechview's cobblestone Canton Avenue, which ascends from Coast Avenue at a 37-degree angle.

“It's a real challenge. You can be in really good shape, it doesn't matter — after you've pounded up those 13 hills, your legs are obliterated,” said Abby Ritter, an event volunteer who is close friends with one of its co-founders, Danny Chew, an icon in the local cycling community who was paralyzed from the chest down in a Sept. 4 bike accident near Lodi, Ohio.

All of the proceeds from the event will go toward a medical fund for Chew, who is undergoing rehabilitative therapy in Chicago, Ritter said. Chew livestreamed words of encouragement to Saturday's participants via a big screen that was set up near the starting gate of Highland Park's Bud Harris Cycling Track.

“He's an inspiration to so many people, and not just because of what he's gone through,” Ritter said of Chew, who had been riding toward a lifetime goal of 1 million miles before the injury and now says he aims to complete the remaining 200,000 miles on a hand cycle.

Sullivan's story should also inspire people looking to get in shape.

In February 2015, the 5-foot, 8-inch Sullivan said he weighed 297 pounds. Then a new, first-time father, Sullivan said he wanted to get fit so he could be more active with his child as she grew up.

But finding time to exercise wasn't easy, given that he worked full-time and was pursuing a master's degree from Geneva College in Beaver County in addition to helping raise his then-8-month-old daughter with his wife.

After spending the first three months of his fitness program focusing on improving his diet by eliminating sugars and carbs in a move that Sullivan says helped him shed 50 pounds, Sullivan started taking hourlong bike rides on his lunch break. At first, he could cover 4 or 5 miles. Now he's not happy if he doesn't cover 13 or 14 miles.

By February of this year, one year after Sullivan started trying to get fit, he had shed 100 pounds. He says he now weighs 191 pounds.

“If I could do it, anybody can do it, I really believe that,” Sullivan said.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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