Stroke survivor: ‘This is my life’

Man rides 9,300 miles on horseback for National Stroke Association

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — Leslie Fender enjoyed a cold beer Friday evening under the shaded side porch of VFW Post 4203 on Old River Road in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Leslie Fender and Angel have traveled more than 9,300 miles to raise awareness of and funds for the National Stroke Association.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Leslie Fender and Angel have traveled more than 9,300 miles to raise awareness of and funds for the National Stroke Association.

A new friend approached to shake his hand. Fender reached out with his right hand to meet the gesture. Something as simple as a handshake was impossible for the 60-year-old 11 years ago. An Army brat born in Texas, Fender attained the rank of sergeant in the Marine Corps and later worked 20 years as a butler and restaurant owner.

On Sept. 9, 2003, he suffered a stroke.

“My whole right side was paralyzed,” Fender said.

Life as he knew it was over — until he met Dr. Graham Long, a vascular specialist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. Long was looking for a candidate for an experimental surgery that placed a stent from his brain to his carotid artery. It turned out Fender was ideal mostly because Fender had nothing to lose.

“We  didn’t know what would happen,” he said.

As Fender reached this part of this story, he used his right hand to scratch his scraggly white beard. That’s what he did, he said, when he woke up after surgery.

“I moved my right hand,” Fender said, “for the first time in six months.”

That was Spring 2004. The surgery, paid for by the National Stroke Foundation, cost $250,000. He began riding Angel, a 9-year-old quarterhorse, two and one-half years ago.

“I’ve been on horseback ever since,” Fender said.

The goal was to raise awareness for the National Stroke Association. And a lot of money. Mission accomplished on both fronts, as the journey of Fender and Angel has been followed by media outlets across the country. The pair’s exploits has resulted in donations exceeding $450,000, Fender said, as the duo has traveled throughout the southeast and several other states, from Texas to Michigan to New York City.

Every bit of the money goes towards the association. Fender said he lives primarily lives off his fixed income of about $1,200 a month. He camps most nights but sometimes takes a night in a local hotel. On Friday, he was initially considering doing just that as he reached Rockingham. Where does Angel go?

“That is my vehicle,” Fender said. “They have to go ahead and let me stay there.”

That’s only proved to be a problem a couple of times. On Friday, however, local residents fixed Fender and Angel up with private accommodations.

Fender said Friday he’s headed for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., where he’ll meet up with National Stroke Association representatives as well as Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford.

On Saturday, he’ll wake at 4 a.m. and be ready to hit the road by 6 a.m. He plans to take U.S. Route 1 north towards Aberdeen. He and Angel average about 30 miles a day, Fender said. Travel along Route 1 doesn’t concern him. Not at all.

“When we were in New York City in 2013,” Fender recalled the New Year’s Eve experience, “that’s the worst traffic in the world. She went right through it.”

Fender is a member of VFW Post 9181 in Stephenville, Texas. He said he stops at as many VFW posts along the way to talk with other veterans.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors

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  • Sandra Elliott

    This must be the horse outside of Waffle House I saw yesterday. He was standing under a tree.

  • Daffy

    A nice story about a good hearted man. GOD has blessed and carried him. He has a wonderful testimony.

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