Dan Treadwell’s heart stopped five days after an open-heart surgery that replaced a valve in 2007. Doctors grabbed a crash cart and shocked his heart back into action – later adding a pacemaker to go along with his new mechanical heart valve.
“I almost died,” he remembers all too vividly, despite more than a dozen years passing since the near-fatal event.
Treadwell spent nine days in the hospital, chomping at the bit to get out. He wanted to start what doctors told him would be a long recovery. More than anything, though, he wanted to get back on his bicycle and return to riding on the Sligo Creek Trail. He began riding vigorously in the 1980s and stayed with it for the rest of his life. No matter how demanding his career was working as a civilian for the Navy, Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration, he always managed to make time for exercise on his favorite trail.
Saddling up with two new pieces of hardware in his chest, though, was a little daunting.
“I wasn’t afraid, exactly,” he says. “It was more a feeling of being unsure of how the valve and pacemaker would function. I tested it gradually over time, using a monitor to keep an eye on myself.”
Starting cautiously, he ultimately increased his heart rate to 165 beats per minute. He recovered about three-quarters of his fitness level in the first three to four months. The remainder took about nine months to achieve. For him, that meant the ability to ride 200 miles a week at the height of his riding routine.
He was fine.
Until he wasn’t.
He hit a patch of black ice on a January ride in 2019 – breaking his leg and spending eight days in the hospital. The allure of Sligo Creek again powered his recovery, as did his love for nature photography.
“I find it refreshing to come out here,” he says, looking out at the University Boulevard stormwater runoff ponds, one hand on his bike and the other ready to reach for his camera at a moment’s notice. “I’m always looking for wildlife. I like seeing mockingbirds and goldfinches – or some bird that I don’t even know. It’s really exciting because there’s so much to discover.”
Treadwell, who over time “cut back” to riding 15 miles every day, hasn’t sought to turn photography into a profession but he does enjoy sharing his work with Friends of Sligo Creek, iNaturalist and others. (Look for him at dtread1 on iNaturalist.)
His best birding surprises along the Anacostia River Tributary Trail System? He thinks of a pileated woodpecker he spotted in some dead trees near a swing set on Sligo Creek and a rare sighting of a hooded merganser that he found at the little ponds by the Kemp Mill Park. He saw a bald eagle there, too. He also remembers a ride to Lake Artemesia in College Park, where he caught a glimpse of a double-breasted cormorant. It’s a goose-sized bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
“This is my job now,” he muses. “I ride my bike and take pictures of wildlife. I don’t get paid for it – but I love it!”