BILLINGS — Odds are, people in Yellowstone Country have seen Richard Kelly out cycling -- maybe on wide-open roads near the interstate or buzzing around the streets of Billings.
"I ended up putting close to 3,000 miles on last year," Kelly told MTN Sports on a recent sunny morning. And 3,000 isn't a guess.
"I have a computerized odometer, so it runs from right here and there's a magnet right there," he offered as a show-and-tell from the seat of his three-wheeled cycle.
Kelly can't stand to sit idle. For years now, even a couple decades, the 33-year-old has been burning rubber around the roads of Yellowstone County. "I have around 78,000 (total) miles put on," he said.
Let that sink in: 78,000 miles. That's more mileage on his cycle than a lot of people put on a vehicle. Kelly said he's been at it since age six, and not pedaling, but pushing without the use of his legs.
Kelly suffered a brain tumor at 18 months and said the ramifications from surgeries shot down his spinal cord. Doctors told his family that Kelly suffered from Child Rheumatoid Arthritis in his hip. Hoping for a solution, they put him in traction. Kelly's dad, John, explained that when doctors released the traction, Richard had lost function in both legs.
For the next two years he endured surgeries, chemo and radiation. When Kelly came out the other side of recovery, he was ready to roll and hasn't stopped.
"(Cycling) just gets me out and keeps me going and active and everything like that," he said.
When Kelly's not cycling, odds are he's working one of two jobs. He's spent the past 14 years and counting working at a local Dollar Store and, in the mornings, helps his mom, Terri, and dad with custodial services at the MSU Billings library.
"I showed them where I can reach and not reach and stuff like that," he explained from his wheelchair inside the library. "During the summertime when all the kids are out, I'll wipe down the bookshelves and things like that to keep me busy."
After work, John helps Richard unload his cycle from the pickup bed and swap it out for the wheelchair -- and one other critical accessory. "In my truck is my Bluetooth speaker," Richard said, requesting John grab it for him.
Richard recalls his early Special Olympics events filled with wheelchair races. Over time, he said they became too short and he became more competitive. His collection of medals speaks for itself.
That fire evolved into cycling where, to this day, he holds his own against traditional cyclists. Kelly's sheer upper body strength is outrageous. Multiple times, he's pushed his way up the steep incline of Airport Hill in Billings, then turned around to fly right down.
"I got up to about 42 miles an hour, which it don't bother me," he laughed.
And, in the event of a flat: "Well, you know, I was hoping Triple A would work," he confides, maybe only partially joking. Generally, though, John drives to the rescue.
As one might imagine, Ricardo, as buddies call him, hears his share of friendly horn taps in and out of town. "A couple cars honking at me, semi-trucks blaring their horns," he said.
Richard said he'd love to return the favor some day by startling people with, of all things, a train horn on his rig. "I've seen that all the time on Facebook, someone will hook it up to their vehicle and scare the crap out of people," he expressed with joy.
Consider that fair warning.