LEWISTON — Philip Burgess Jr. received his first bike from his dad, who is one of four “angels” riding with him as he pedals to and from work every day.

Philip Burgess Sr. died in 2012 of cancer. Stickers with “In loving memory: Philip W. Burgess Sr.” adorn the front of his bike and the side of his helmet.

“The way I see it, I ride with angels,” the 44-year-old Lewiston man said.

Those angels are George Yeaton, Toby Gower, Kenny Vanmetre and Burgess Sr., who died of cancer. Each has a place on Burgess’ helmet. 

Burgess bikes to work year-round. He has never had a driver’s license and is not interested in getting one. 

“I just like to ride,” he said. “It’s my peace and quiet time.”

“There are cold days,” he admitted. “People would not think that someone would ride through that crud. I bundle up real good.”

Burgess was working for a temporary employment agency in Lewiston. He was assigned to go to Maine Poly in Greene and rode through a snowstorm to get to work. The boss asked him how he got to work in the storm, Burgess said by bike. The boss was so surprised that he hired Burgess full time. He worked at the plastic bag and laminate manufacturer until the plant closed in 2005. 

Now he rides to his job at Dingley Press in Lewiston. 

Burgess avoids certain high-traffic roads for safety reasons. He has been hit numerous times, he said.

He recalled a ride home for lunch in the 1990s when he was hit by a delivery truck. “It messed me up a little bit,” he said. “But I just got up and walked away. I jumped back on my bike and went back to work.”

He was hit again in 2008. “I’m still trying to figure out how I lived through that one.” Three weeks later, he was back on his bike.

“I believe in God. Otherwise I probably would not be here,” said Burgess, who carries a book of scriptures in his pocket when he rides. 

“I’m accident prone. Been that way all my life,” he said. He fell out of a fourth-floor window when he was 7. An awning below the window helped soften the blow. “A few scratches on my chest, that’s all,” he said.

Burgess rides each fall in the Dempsey Challenge in memory of his father and three friends who lost their lives to cancer. 

People at The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, Dingley Press and Busytown Bikes became aware of Burgess’ need for a new bike. His was of poor quality, had no lights or fenders and left him with muddy clothes by the time he got to work.

Before the 2013 Dempsey Challenge, Busytown owner Dominic Giampaolo gave Burgess a new bike and Dingley donated a new helmet. 

“It was a bunch of people lending a hand,” Giampaolo said.

“I was on cloud nine. I was pretty happy,” Burgess said. “I don’t have a brown streak up my back anymore.”

His commute time from home to work has been cut in half. It’s now now about one hour each way in dry weather. He still rides his old bike during the winter, adding another two hours of ride time round trip.

“It’s way too nice to ride in the winter time,” Burgess said of his new set of wheels. 

“Phil is an inspiration in many ways,” said Giampaolo, who rides his bike to work eight months of the year. “He has the dedication that is lacking in a lot of people. It is important for him to have a job, and he finds a way to get there. We need more people like him.”

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