Dan Zimmerman was born in 1964 in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, the second of three boys in his family. His parents divorced, and Dan lived with his father in Minnesota for eight years before returning at age 10 to live with his mother in Wisconsin.
Dan's industrial arts teacher in high school sparked his interest in woodworking. By the time he was 16, Dan had saved enough money from odd jobs to buy a table saw, band saw and joiner and set up his own wood shop in the family basement. He soon had a booming business making miniature furniture for customers of a dollhouse shop his mother had started.
Tragedy struck the family when Dan's older brother, Kevin, died at age 19. Tests later revealed that both Kevin and Dan had HHT (Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia), a disease in which the lungs fail to filter clots efficiently.
Dan had the first of periodic surgeries to treat his HHT and graduated from Sussex Hamilton High School in 1982. He got a job in a cabinet shop and continued his woodworking business on the side, paying his own way through Milwaukee Area Technical College. He graduated in 1983.
During a vacation to Arizona, Dan's stepfather accepted a job at a Pontiac dealership, and the family moved to metro Phoenix in 1984. Dan worked briefly for a furniture maker, then used his woodworking equipment to start his own cabinet and furniture-making business in 1985 in Fountain Hills AZ. Woodworks by Dan eventually grew to more than eight employees and more than $540,000 in annual sales.
As he worked 80- to 100-hour workweeks, Dan also married and had two sons of his own -- Josh, born in 1997, and Zach, born in 2001. But his marriage soured, and he moved into his shop while divorce and custody proceedings dragged on.
In 2005, at age 41, Dan suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right arm and leg and damaged the left side of his brain. A hospital doctor told him that he would never walk or talk again. Angry, Dan knew he had to give up or fight. His early life with his father, a railroad conductor who worked all hours and drank more than he parented, had left Dan determined to work hard and do better. Dan knew his sons needed a father, and he decided to shut down his woodworking business and concentrate on recovery.
It took eight weeks before he could hobble with a walker. For six months he visited job sites in a wheelchair, pointing to communicate as the company wrapped up projects. It took a year before he barely could talk, and three years before he could spell simple words. He now lives in Tempe, and his main source of income is rent from his woodworking building.
By 2008, Dan wanted more mobility than his wheelchair afforded. His first tricycles were too heavy but offered him the "freedom, plain and simple," that he craves. He bought a lightweight recumbent trike in 2009 and began riding with the "Bent Riders of Arizona" on weekly rides and weekend tours. He logs 500 to 700 miles a month and in 2012 rode more than 350 miles from Phoenix to San Diego in eight days.
Cycling, Dan says, has improved his health and more importantly, given him a purpose in life. He wants to raise awareness of HHT, the disease that killed his brother and mother and is present in Dan and his younger son. He also wants to raise awareness of stroke prevention and inspire other stroke survivors to fight back against the disease.
And now the biggest ride of his life - the Spokes Fighting Strokes "Road to Margaritaville" ride - will begin on June 29, 2014. A ride of more than 5,000 miles across the United States from Anacortes, Washington to Key West in Florida.