Photo Essay | Turning Wheels for Kids with the San Francisco 49ers

On November 10th, volunteers from Optum Pro Cycling and the San Francisco 49ers teamed up to build bicycles for foster youth in the Bay Area. For the third consecutive year, the two organiations partnered with Turning Wheels for Kids, a passionate 501(3)C run entirely by volunteers who provide bikes, helmets and locks to underprivileged kids around California.

The teams built 80 bikes together, ranging from Diamondback BMXs and single-speed hybrids up to a full-blown hardtail. Optum Pro Cycling athletes Leah Kirchmann, Brad Huff, Lauren Hall, and Eric Young were joined by a variety of 49ers players during the course of the build, mostly clad in sweatpants and moving slowly after a brutal overtime victory in New Orleans just one day prior. A host of volunteers and mechanics helped guide the process, making sure every bolt was tight and every tire was properly pumped.

49ers team captain and 6-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis was happy to help out and discuss his own fondness for bicycles as a struggling kid. Willis grew up in an abusive home in rural Tennessee – by the age of ten he was working full time in the cotton fields to support his family, effectively raising his three younger siblings. By 17, he’d had enough, and asked school counselors for help. The siblings were moved into foster care, and started rebuilding their lives. Willis recalled what both foster care and bicycles meant to him and his brothers, sister and cousins in these tough times – the fondest use of his childhood bike was as a quick way to get out of the house and over to one of their favorite fishing holes.

“For me a bike wasn’t just a toy,” said Willis, “It was transportation. As a foster kid, it was a lifeline. It is a blessing to be able to come out here to help today – to build bikes for kids who don’t have one. It is also a lot of fun.”



Following the build, the bikes were transported to the main pavilion of the 49er’s expansive new Levi’s Stadium, where they would meet their new owners. 49ers mascot Sourdough Sam and other youth football staff were on hand to lead the kids through some fun conditioning sessions while others picked out a new bike and helmet, carefully dialing in combinations for their new locks.






Seeing the genuine excitement on the kids faces as they played with their new bikes, it was fun to think back to the time most of us got our first wheels, and the sense of potential and pride it instilled in us. One young rider said it best after a few laps around the pavilion – “I have freedom!”