ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The 2010 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, changed the course of Douglas Schneebeck’s life, but it did not diminish his passion for life.
As the degenerative disease progressed, Schneebeck, a lawyer at the Modrall law firm, continued to ride bicycles competitively, switching to specially configured cycles and winning paralympic medals in Montreal, Rome and Prague. He also won a 2013 U.S. national championship.
Neither was Schneebeck’s sense of humor diminished.
He established Oso High Endurance Sports, which raised more than $405,000 for ALS research and simultaneously started a blog in which he used insight and humor to chronicle his struggle with ALS even as he prepared for cycling competitions.
Schneebeck, a 2013 Spirit of New Mexico Award recipient, died peacefully in his sleep Oct. 17, surrounded by family members. He was 56.
“He was extraordinary,” said Jean Bannon, his wife of 26 years. “Every day he had fun,” and particularly enjoyed the outdoors, nature and travel. But he was also “incredibly organized and efficient,” she said. “When our kids were little he’d get up at 4 a.m. and work until 7 a.m. so he could be with them before they left for school, and he was home every night by 5 p.m. and every weekend. A lot of lawyers missed their kids growing up. He did not.”
Dan Porto, a friend and member of Schneebeck’s inner circle of cycling buddies, was part of the support team that allowed Schneebeck to continue enjoying the sport. As the disease progressed, Schneebeck went from a three-wheel trike to a single recumbent three-wheeler, to a tandem recumbent three-wheeler.
“I learned a lot from him about teamwork and the art of cycling, which really translates into the art of living,” Porto said. “Doug’s tenacity and drive is what drove the team, and he made it fun. He was goal oriented, and as the disease progressed he just created new goals. He was basically a happy guy and never complained or seemed depressed.”
Tim Holm, a colleague at the Modrall law firm, called Schneebeck “my best friend and the best friend I ever had.” The two had been close since they started at the firm about 30 years ago, he said.
“He was an extremely successful lawyer, extremely fearless, bright and well rounded,” Holm said. Because of that, Schneebeck was frequently sought out by high-profile clients. Even opposing counsel and people he beat in court generally liked him for his professional and friendly manner. “I never saw animosity or resentment or jealousy from them. Just respect.”
Holm said he and Schneebeck regularly jogged together. In addition, Schneebeck was “an aggressive skier” and a national champion track-and-field hurdler in the master’s division for older athletes. The higher-impact skiing and track sports began to take a toll on Schneebeck’s knees, Holm said. “I urged him to replace track and field with more bicycling and I helped him pick out his first road bike. He was great at it immediately. I thought I was in good shape, but he’d drop me and everybody else within the first 10 miles, and he wasn’t even trying.”
Michael Donovan, also part of Schneebeck’s cycling team, met Schneebeck in the early 1990s, when Donovan was the director of marketing and sales for Sandia Peak and Ski Santa Fe. Schneebeck was a volunteer teacher of adaptive skiing, instructing people with physical disabilities how to use specialized equipment for downhill skiing.
“Doug was instrumental in creating the organization and structure behind what is now the Adaptive Sports Program,” which encompasses a variety of sports. “He was a gentleman and had a kind heart and liked to give back, but at the same time he loved to have fun.”
Toward the end, Bannon said, her husband communicated with an eye tracking computer that allowed him to spell out words, but he knew he would eventually be unable to use even this, “so he told me, ‘when I wink, it means I love you.'”
Before he drifted off and peacefully died, Bannon said, her husband winked at her one last time.
In addition to Bannon, Schneebeck is survived by daughters Jessa Walker and Abigail Schneebeck, son James-Bannon Schneebeck, his parents, sisters, numerous nieces and nephews and countless friends.
While burial has already taken place, donations in Doug Schneebeck’s honor can still be made to the Adaptive Sports Program of New Mexico or the ALS Association of New Mexico.