Bikes and life lessons cap BMX camp
Fresno gave Disneyland competition for being “The Happiest Place on Earth” on Monday — despite the searing heat.
Tony Hoffman, founder of the nonprofit Freewheel Project, presented Haro BMX bicycles to 80 local youngsters who had perfect attendance and followed the rules at his Woodward Park summer camp.
One hundred and twenty youths started the program. These were the survivors, along with 10 others under the age of 8 who received backpacks stuffed with school supplies for making every session.
There were smiles, hugs and shout-outs everywhere. Then the kids got on their bikes — with racing numbers printed on paper plates and affixed to the handlebars — and pedaled, braked and jumped around the track.
“A landmark day,” Hoffman said. “Getting a bicycle is great, but so is giving a bicycle. Not that these were given. They were earned by the kids.”
The camp ran for nine Mondays, which meant a lot of getting up early and waiting patiently for loaner bikes and helmets.
Hoffman, a professional BMX racer and recovering addict, served up life lessons and encouragement.
What did 11-year-old Destiny Toscano learn?
“To stay away from negative people,” she said.
“To use the brake when you go down that big hill,” she said, pointing to the track’s starting line.
Did you ever fall off?
“Every Monday I did.”
No one picked himself up more than Andrew Holder, 7, who attends Fremont Elementary in Fresno. He has epilepsy and asthma. Participating in sports was difficult for Andrew — until he got on a bike, said his mother, Lisa Medina.
“Every Monday he was awake at 6 o’clock in the morning and saying, ‘Mommy, let’s get ready to go.’ He took some good tumbles on the track, but got right back up every time.”
Elisa Rodriguez thanked Hoffman for the program. Her son Joseph, 11, who attends Vinland Elementary, finally has a bike of his own.
“Joseph loves to ride, but we’ve never been able to afford a bike for him,” Rodriguez told Hoffman. “I truly appreciate everything you’ve done for the kids.”
The bikes aren’t cheapies. They sell for $250 each at a bike shop. But Hoffman made it happen with a concert fundraiser and donations.
He says that Operation Freewheel will return next summer.
“We hope to be able to offer kids a chance to earn helmets, USA BMX memberships and local racing entry fees,” he said.
“Our goal is to motivate kids to stay on the straight and narrow. And, if they don’t, we hope they’ll remember their time here and use those lessons to get over their challenges.”
Good news for Hendrix: In a couple years, Hendrix Wille might be zooming around a BMX track. The 2-year-old Clovis boy underwent a bone-marrow transplant at UC San Francisco Medical Center three weeks ago in his battle against a leukemia and has not had any major fevers or infections.
“Hendrix is still his usual self and wants to play with cars and trains all day when he is awake,” writes his mother, Rozanne Hug Wille, in an email. “He has an unbelievable amount of energy and has now decided to jump on the bed, couch and crawl onto the window sill.”
Thanks to everyone who has joined the fight against blood cancers by signing up for the national bone-marrow registry.