John Grenier stands in his store, Rainbow Bicycle in Lewiston. “I remember riding along the oceanside heading over to the bridge,” he says Thursday. “That is the last thing I remember.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

A swell of humanity rushed to John Grenier’s aid after his world suddenly went dark at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

On a Thursday morning last September, Grenier — a cyclist and owner of Rainbow Bicycle in Lewiston — was cycling to the Golden Gate to meet a friend, Ford Murphy, at the visitor center. When he stopped at the center, he complained of not feeling well and collapsed. 

For the next 19 minutes, officers from the California Highway Patrol and other bridge personnel administered CPR and used automated external defibrillators to revive the 63-year-old Lewiston native’s silent heart. 


Grenier has no memory of what transpired for those 19 minutes or his trip to the hospital. But, his brush with death has instilled a new appreciation for life and for the first responders who kept him alive. 

“I don’t remember any of it,” Grenier said. “The first thing I remember is waking up (in a hospital). I probably woke up two-and-a-half hours to three hours later after the event. 


“For the next day, my wife (Nancy) said probably every 15, 20 minutes I looked up at the ceiling and grabbed my broken ribs and asked, ‘What happened? Did I crash?’ She said, ‘No you had a heart attack.” An hour later the same conversation (happened). By the third day, I had no issues at all with (my memory).” 

But what happened during those critical minutes on the Golden Gate could be gleaned from reviewing the bridge’s security cameras and from first responders’ personal accounts of their attempts to save Grenier.

The ride began uneventfully. “I remember getting up, having breakfast, feeling great. Put my bike together. I remember getting on the bike, and I got a text from him (Murphy) right as I was heading out. He was running five minutes late. 

“I remember riding along the oceanside heading over to the bridge. That is the last thing I remember,” he said. But, on security footage “you could see me coming up the path of the visitor center and doing a loop around the visitor parking lot.”

Grenier approached a maintenance worker in a yellow vest and told him he was having chest pain and then suddenly collapsed. Another bridge employee notified Captain of the Golden Gate Bridge Roger Elauria that there was a man down in the parking lot. 

“(The bridge captain) came out right away and he had one of the AEDs in the vicinity,” Grenier explained. “He came out first and I believe he called 911 and then he did CPR on me. The protocol is to do two or three minutes of CPR first. So, he started with that and (then) he cut my cycling clothing off because you have to have skin contact for the AED and he hit me with the paddles. No response.


“The AED will tell you if you have a heartbeat and it said ‘more CPR.’ Two CHP officers were nearby … and they came over and three of them rotated on me. It is very tiring to do CPR. In the process, they broke five of my ribs while doing CPR, which is normal if you are doing it right.”

Elauria, reached by telephone, remembers the event vividly, saying, “To be quite honest, I even told John (Grenier) this: ‘John, when I got on scene, it looked like you were gone already.’”

He also told Grenier, “and not that it sounds right, but you had a heart attack in the most opportune location because we had workers there and workers nearby that are trained in CPR and AED and all that good stuff.”

That vigorous CPR is why Grenier’s brain was not damaged during his heart attack. 

“They were doing (CPR) so well that they were (providing) me enough (oxygen) that my brain was not dying, and there was no gap because there are three of them,” Grenier said.

“They just kept taking turns … and an ambulance showed up and took me to California Pacific Medical Center. It is a really advanced hospital that does heart transplants there,” he explained. “I was lucky they were right nearby.”


The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, where John Grenier collapsed. Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District


Elauria spoke with the Sun Journal about that day, recalling details right to the minute.

“This occurred at 6:56 in the morning and, so, we have many trades that work here at the Bridge Division of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of our laborers, his name is Darrell Shinnette, notified our office over the radio that there was a bicyclist down in a parking lot,” he said.

“Our units responded down there and, sure enough, (we) get him on camera. We get our units there. They determine right away that he needs CPR. They hook him up to the AED,” and Elauria explained that “I did get on scene because it did look like a very dire situation.”

California Highway Patrol officers Leslie Poteet and Victor Reyes, along with Elauria, rotated CPR shifts to keep Grenier alive until the ambulance arrived. 

“It took quite a long time before the ambulance got there,” Elauria remembers. “So, 6:56 is when we got the initial call. The ambulance wasn’t on scene until 7:15. We hooked him up to one of our AEDS and we shocked him three separate times.  


“Like I said, we were all taking turns doing CPR, giving chest compressions and rescue breaths. Quite honestly, we thought it was a futile effort, but our training (is) you don’t give up until the ambulance (personnel) say, ‘OK guys, stop!’” 

Golden Gate Bridge Capt. Roger Elauria was one of three officers who administered CPR to John Grenier. Facebook photo

“We thought he was a goner,” Elauria said. “One of our officers is an EMT (as a) side job, and he was able to feel a very weak pulse, but again, it was in and out, in and out. Again, when the ambulance took him away, I am like, ‘Oh man, you guys be prepared for the bad news.’” 

Shortly after the ambulance left, Elauria called his crew together for an after-action briefing to reflect on their response.

“So, we call everyone into our office. We allow everyone to take a breath to process what happened,” Elauria explained. “While we were talking about the whole incident, officer Poteet from CHP comes into our office and she apparently got out to the hospital (to see him and said), ‘Hey, whatever you guys did, whatever we did, he is sitting up in his hospital bed yelling in pain, but he is alive. We had that, I don’t know how to describe it, that WTF look on all of our faces.”

Poteet said it was a feel-good moment when she learned Grenier was on the road to recovery.

“It sounds cheesy, but it makes my heart happy,” she said. “This is why I signed up to do this job. It is not about catching bad guys. It is about helping people. All the bad stuff we see and the broken bodies, the mangled messes, (but) to see this makes all that worth it. 


“We don’t give up,” Poteet added. “We do just everything we can. There is no quitting in this game.

“I am glad he is doing well,” she said. “We received a video from (John) that he got to see his first grandchild when he got home from California. That made it for me. That is one thing I will never forget.” 

Reyes also remembers the team effort to keep Grenier alive that day.

“At the time, it did not seem like 19 minutes had gone by,” Reyes wrote in an email to the Sun Journal. “It was all a blur to me. I could see Grenier trying his best to come back, so I just kept going and going. Toward the end of doing CPR we finally got a pulse … 

“At first it did not hit me that we saved this man’s life, and I thought it was just another day as an officer. After all the appreciation and props from the partners in the department, it finally hit me that, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we just did that.’ All I got to say is that I wish him the best and that I hope to see him down the road in the future.” 

John Grenier, left, rounds the corner from Pine to Lisbon streets during the men’s master 50/60 and over combined race during the Lewiston Auburn Criterium in downtown Lewiston in August 2019. Grenier won the masters 60 and over race. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file



Grenier is deeply committed to his health.  

Growing up, he played baseball for Lewiston High School and swung a bat for the University of Southern Maine team for one year. 

“I have always been competitive by nature, so I started working out at the USM gym while I was in between classes,” he said. “I had big gaps in time while I was commuting, and I got into powerlifting. I’ve been kind of a health nut since that time, really.” 

Before he became a cyclist, John Grenier competed as a weightlifter. Submitted photo

“Then, when I was about 30 years old and a second child came along and I felt I was a bit pudgy. Life started getting in the way and I started getting soft. I decided for my 30th birthday I decided I was going to do a triathlon.” 

He competed in the Androscoggin Valley Triathlon featuring stages of running, paddling a canoe and biking. That event triggered an interest in cycling that remains his passion to this day. 

During the triathlon “I remember riding my first loop around Lake Auburn and dying,” he said. “Every little bit was killing me and I remember these skinny bike racer guys going by me on my second lap. I was angry. I said, ‘How can this be?’  


“So I went into Rainbow Bike the very next day and I talked with the shop owner and said, ‘Tell me about this bike racing stuff.’ The guy was just really interesting. I was hooked right off the bat. It was the same high I got from weightlifting,” he remembers. “I knew it was a lot healthier for me. So, in my early 30s I started competing in bike races.” 

Grenier purchased his first racing bike for $700 in 1989. Nine years later, after working as a general manager for a car dealership, he bought Rainbow Bicycle in 1998. 

“I bought the bike shop and it was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “Then I got heavily into bike racing. I was probably doing 30 races a year. At one point in criteriums I was ranked ninth in the country,” he said. A “criterium is like a one-mile race that you do over and over again. It is almost like a NASCAR race” on a short track, cycling lap after lap. 

“I have gone to nationals many times. The best I could ever get was ninth in nationals,” he said. “I have been in the top 10 a couple of times. Nationals are held all over the country.” 

But, in 2021, Grenier noticed his heart rate would soar during races. 

He remembers having a great racing season in the summer and fall of 2021, and feeling great. “Except, every time I raced, somewhere in the race, my heart rhythm was going to 220,” he said. “I was having afib at the time, but I didn’t know it. It would be like a 30-second bout of it. I would just kind of fight through it in the race.” 


Afib is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm that can lead to problems including blood clots in the heart.

When he saw a doctor, tests detected that four of Grenier’s arteries showed 78% blockage, and he underwent triple bypass surgery in January 2022. 


Murphy, the friend Grenier was biking to meet in San Francisco, had spent a year at Bates College in Lewiston before transferring to Northeastern University, but during his year in the Twin Cities he met Grenier.

“He was the guy showing me the ropes and doing those group rides with Rainbow Bike on those cold Sunday mornings during Lewiston winters,” Murphy said. “All the guys in that shop helped me with racing road bikes and what it was really all about.”

Now a mountain bike engineer, Murphy arrived at the Golden Gate visitor center and noticed a commotion in the parking lot. As he walked toward the commotion, Murphy said he was stunned to see his friend lying helpless on the ground. 


“I rolled up three or four minutes after (John)  …  and I am kind of looking around and see kind of a crowd of police officers and a couple of other cyclists standing on the other side of the plaza.” 

Murphy identified Grenier – who was not carrying ID – for the rescue crew and put them in touch with his wife. Murphy then gave her a ride to the hospital. 

“I took the day off work to make sure she could get to the hospital and kind of navigate around San Francisco,” Murphy said. “I am glad it worked out reasonably well. It is a scary thing to see this happen.” 

Murphy remembers feeling helpless as he watched rescuers perform CPR, but that’s not how Grenier thinks of it. “Ford was able to tell them who I was and then he found my emergency contacts on my GPS” and gave rescuers his wife’s phone number. “When she got the call, talk about a shock,” Grenier said.

Murphy also reached out to Grenier’s son Ben, who remembers that “I’d oddly gotten a Facebook call, which is not something I get very often from a person.” He remembers being at work, “so I was like, ‘Oh, I will call him back in a few minutes’ and later realized Murphy was the person Grenier was scheduled to ride with that morning.

“It was one of those things that I regretted not picking up that call, but I heard shortly after that (Murphy) had gotten in contact with my mom and, maybe eight minutes later, my mom called.” 


Ben remembers being at Rainbow Bicycle when his mom called. “I think I sort of exclaimed, ‘No!’ and sat on the floor right where I was,” he said. “So yeah, just a whole mix of terrified that this can’t be the time. He has been in various bike crashes and has broken his ribs, his collarbone … he always sort of bounces back.” 

Nancy Grenier, who is a registered nurse, remembers being absolutely shocked when she picked up the call from California Pacific. “Here we are in a strange place and I didn’t even know how to get” to the hospital, she said. “I didn’t even know where the hospital was.” 

But Murphy was on the phone moments later and offered to drive her to the hospital.

John and Nancy Grenier share a moment together. Submitted photo

“When Nancy met me in the emergency room, I was unresponsive,” John Grenier said. “I had my heart beating, breathing – everything was normal – but no consciousness. They were afraid that I had a massive stroke because that would be typical” for someone who suffered cardiac arrest.

“When I got to the hospital, he was just moaning and groaning,” Nancy said. “When I saw him with the grumbling and not being able to talk, thinking that might be the rest of his life, I really lost it. That first 12 hours was like, ‘Oh my God.’”

Grenier could not speak for two hours, but a CT scan ruled out a stroke. He did suffer temporary short-term memory loss, though, and asked his wife the same questions over and over during his first day in the hospital, and then it got a little better,” Nancy said, “but he was at least (without) short-term memory for about four days, so I had to do all the decision making, which was OK because I am a nurse anyway.”


She credits the fast response at Golden Gate for the minimal memory loss. First responders “did a good job because he has no deficit at all. You would think after that long of not having a heartbeat … you would have some residual effects, but he doesn’t,” she said.

In those first hours after his collapse, the Greniers’ son Nick got on a plane from his home in New York to support his mom and see his dad. By the time he arrived at 10:30 p.m., Grenier was fast asleep, so Nick waited until the next morning to see his dad. It was hard, he said, “that not knowing while you are sitting on a plane.”

“I think the biggest relief for us,” Nick said, “was the moment where she relayed that he was starting to get his awareness of who she was, who he was. That sign of, ‘OK, we’ll have the dad that we do know back, (but) it is just going to take a minute.’ There were signs that his brain function was coming back. That was the biggest relief for us.”

While at the medical center, Grenier had surgery to repair a collapsed vein. According to his wife, “They were able to fix what they call the native vessel to his original coronary artery” with a stent.

He remained there for six days.



Dr. Richard D’Alessandro, an avid cyclist who is a member of the Central Maine Medical Center’s emergency care team, has often been with Grenier on long bike rides.  

He explained that, on the morning he collapsed, Grenier had experienced ventricular fibrillation. 

“So, in the setting of a heart attack, what can happen is your heart will normally beat in a coordinated fashion, and for the different chambers to work in conjunction and time correctly, there is an electrical system in your heart,” D’Alessandro explained. “In ventricular fibrillation, what happens is that electrical system no longer works and the muscles don’t coordinate together. 

“If you imagine, let’s say your heart is a chamber and for it to squeeze blood, all the muscle cells need to contract at the same time to squeeze that and make that chamber smaller. In ventricular fibrillations, the muscle cells don’t contract all together, and so it doesn’t squeeze. What happens is the heart doesn’t pump anymore. You don’t generate any blood flow.” 

The deprivation of blood flow also means the brain doesn’t receive oxygen and a person eventually becomes unconscious, he said, and “unless that gets corrected, you die because there is no blood flow.”  

D’Alessandro said he doesn’t know all the specifics of Grenier’s heart attack, “but from my understanding, he had what we term as sudden death, which is you are awake one minute and you drop dead.”


“A vast majority of these are because there is an abnormal heart rhythm like John had,” he said, noting how fortunate it was that Grenier didn’t suffer serious brain damage.

“The only reason that happened that way is because it happened where he was,” the doctor said. “It happened in a popular place. There were people who saw him. They had a defibrillator there. There were people who were trained in CPR. He was an extraordinarily lucky person.”


The trauma Grenier experienced at the Golden Gate Bridge re-enforced — for him — the notion that we all lead a fragile existence. 

Grenier was lying in his hospital bed at California Pacific when he received a text from his sister that still resonates with him. 

“She said, ‘You better make sure you make it for your grandson. You’ve got to be there for him.’ I just lost it when I read that text,” he said. 


That love and support from family and friends inspired him to make a strong recovery. 

“I definitely feel weaker than I did before the heart attack, but for normal activities, for a normal human being, I am 100%,” he said. “But my standard is how fast can I ride my bike, how fast can I run. I am still riding five or six hours a week. I used to do 10 or 12 hours a week. Now I am doing half that at a slower speed.” 

John Grenier rides his bike Thursday in his store, Rainbow Bicycle in Lewiston. “I don’t look back on things, but it does make me realize that I am not living forever,” he says. “We all know that, but you are not face-to-face with it very often.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

His goal remains training and riding with friends, but he doesn’t plan to do any more races. “I don’t look back on things, but it does make me realize that I am not living forever. We all know that, but you are not face-to-face with it very often. It is probably good that I don’t remember what happened. To me, it is like a story that someone is telling me that happened to me. I know it did.”  

He sometimes thinks about his wife receiving that phone call and those difficult conversations he had with her in the hospital. 

“Every once in a while I will be driving in the car, a certain song will come on and it will hit me really hard that, ‘Hey, I am here and I have to pay attention to what I am doing moving forward. I can’t be stupid and trying to bike race again.’ 

“There was no ‘seeing the light’ for me. I was just on my bike and then in the hospital and nothing in between. My experience for me is I was just unconscious, asleep, then I was awake. But coming out of it, certainly I appreciate things more.”

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