(Maybe) My best-ever bike story

29 Sep

In the 1980s Bud and Susie owned the Buena Park Schwinn bicycle store. I knew this because my middle sister, Kim, took dance classes (and collected Cabbage Patch Kid dolls) with their youngest daughter, Arin. Later, sometime in the late-1980s, after I stopped being a competitive gymnast, I took dance classes with the older daughter, Amy, too.

But before that — before I *really* knew Bud and Susie, I bought a 3-speed champagne-colored Schwinn Collegiate from them with my very own money.  It looked a lot like this. I was SO proud when I bought that bike. It was my first REAL purchase — the first thing that really mattered. I LOVED that bike. I rode it everywhere. I had to. I was the second-youngest person in my high school class and I didn’t have a driver’s license until 3 months before graduation.

So, that bike was my freedom.

But this post isn’t about that bike.

Sometimes I’d ride to the bike shop to chat with the mechanics or Bud, but mostly I talked with him, or Susie, at the dance studio. The dance studio served as my de facto “bike shop” in those days.

The Carolyn Norris Dance Studio in Fullerton was a place you could go to any time, even if you didn’t have a class, to just pop in, drink a slushee (i.e., kids’ version of espresso), eat a donut (i.e., kids’ version of BonkBreakers) and just shoot the breeze. Everybody in the dance studio knew everyone else’s business — in a good way, just like they do at a good bike shop. And, just like they do now in a good bike shop (shout-out to Bike Effect!), if something came up and you were facing hard times or a challenge, those dance studio people had your back, for sure.

And so it came to pass, inevitably, that everyone in the studio learned that I was trying to get into West Point. They also learned that when I gave up gymnastics and began dabbling in dance, my upper body strength took a dramatic hit. I was having a really hard time with the push-ups and pull-ups I’d need to do in order to pass the Fitness Assessment portion of West Point’s admissions standards.

Bud and Susie came up with a novel solution: The Schwinn Airdyne.

They gifted this BEAST of an exercise bike to me because they knew that I loved bikes and that I hated doing push ups and especially pull ups. They reasoned that I might be more motivated to train my upper body if the training was presented as a bicycle-based activity. They were right.

That Airdyne kicked my ass on a regular basis.  Five days a week for three months I rested my feet on its fan-wheel’s center pegs and did push/pull intervals with my arms for 12-15mins at a time. And, sure enough, it worked! I passed my Fitness Assessment test with flying colors and had no problem earning my Congressional appointment and ultimate admission into the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Of course, actually staying there was a whole ‘nuther question/challenge, but this post isn’t about how/why I left West Point, it’s about the Airdyne — that monstrous miracle of a bike.

To the best of my knowledge, the last time anyone used the Airdyne was when I did a nostalgic little interval on it in June 1990 in connection with my West Point going away party (which was attended by MANY people from the dance studio, see some photos here). For the past 23+ years the Airdyne gathered dust in my mom’s “Retreat” (aka: Junk Room, aka: West-Coast Attic).

This weekend, at my niece’s birthday party, my mom nonchalantly said: “I hired some guys to repair some minor issues with the house. They took care of the water stains on some of the ceilings, patched the little holes in the stairway, sanded the bricks on the front façade, and painted the Retreat. You know that Retreat has NEVER been painted in the 30+ years we had the house?!

Well, that sounds GREAT, mom! Good for you! But how were they able to paint the Retreat with all of the junk (OK, full disclosure: I might have used a more colorful word) in there?

She adopted a slightly sheepish expression and said: “Well, some of the big things, like the wall unit and your old exercise bike, I had them truck over to Melanie and Justin’s house.

Really? Melanie and Justin? Why? What on earth are they going to do with that old beast?

Are you mad that I gave it to them?

No, mom. I’m not. That thing’s lived in your junk room for 23 years. I haven’t thought about it at all until a couple days ago, actually, when I absently wondered whether it might be useful to help train an R2R hand-cyclist or something. But then I realized that our handcyclists wouldn’t be able to get onto that upright seat, so it’s really not useful for them at all, but that’s besides the point … What made you give it to Melanie and Justin of all people??

When she told me why, I had to call upon massive amounts of inner emotional reserves to keep from BAWLING in the middle of my niece’s birthday party.

Holy cow.

After magically transforming me into a West Point cadet and then lying dormant in mom’s junk room for nearly 2 dozen years (why did we keep that blasted thing for so long?!?), that monstrous miracle of a bike re-birthed itself to enable an even better miracle.

<deep breath>

I’ve known Melanie since the day she was born. Literally. Her mom, who worked with my mom, was one of my babysitters. Melanie and Justin got married about 6 years ago and last year (2012) they had their first child: A beautiful little girl with Down Syndrome.

According to Melanie’s blog, which was launched in August of this year (although I only discovered it today), Melanie and Justin “After many months of thoughtful prayer and deep conversation [have] … begun the process to adopt a child with special needs from Eastern Europe.

Fast forward a few weeks and now that their paperwork has been finalized, it turns out that:

(A) The “special needs” child they’ll be adopting happens to ALSO have Down Syndrome, and

(B) The Eastern European country from which they will be adopting is —of all places— my former “temporary homeland”: a country that cannot be officially named here due to legal restrictions placed upon the adoptive parents, but if you know where I served in the Peace Corps, then you know what I’m talking about. 😉

Mom gave the Airdyne to them because, at the EXACT moment mom was telling me the story, they were hosting a garage sale with all sales proceeds going straight to their adoption fund.

Holy cow.

My “crowning achievement” as a Peace Corps volunteer was developing the “One Big Family” mentoring program for orphans in my host city. This program, which endures to this day, received initial funding from Melanie’s mom, Bud and Susie, and many other people in my friends-and-family circle. Never in one-million years could I have imagined that its core principles might be so liberally and fantastically adopted (pardon the pun)!

The Airdyne that transformed my life in 1990 and then sat useless and forlorn for 2-and-a-half decades found its higher calling at a garage sale.

IMG_0550    IMG_0551

Without even knowing it, everyone involved with getting that Airdyne to me in 1990, and everyone who supported the development of my One Big Family orphan mentoring / Peace Corps program in 2004, and everyone who helped mom keep and maintain her home for the last ~3 decades, and everyone who’s supported Melanie and Justin as they expand their family and their love — we’re all a part of the miracle that soon will enable a Down Syndrome baby from an eastern city in that cold Eastern European country to come join the Peters family in Southern California.

And it all began with the gift of a bike.

Bikes rule!

PS — See, mom? I’m NOT mad at you. I love you for being so generous and brilliant.

PPS — If you’d like to donate a bike, or shoes, or cash, or something else of value to the Peters’ family effort to bring Nadiya home, please click either of those links (SHOES or CASH) or visit their blog for more details.

One Response to “(Maybe) My best-ever bike story”


  1. What’s in a name? | JustAdventures - October 8, 2013

    […] of bikes before Rachel. I even loved some of those nameless bikes — like the one I mentioned a few posts ago. But Rachel was different. Rachel was my first real relationship with a […]

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