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.
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.”
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!”