Former Auburn player and Heisman Trophy winner Vincent “Bo” Jackson greeted us at 7 a.m. at the Hampton Inn parking lot and gave us ride details. He asked us to stop at the top of each hill and wait on the other riders. He said that some of you are faster than he is, but remember, Bo said, he outweighs some of the riders, not by 20 pounds, but by 120 pounds.
Celebrity athletes joined Bo Bikes Bama, including:
Ken Griffey Jr.: I see now why he was always such a fan favorite with a smile as big and broad as his home run-hitting shoulders. Once during the day, as we rode up a big hill together, the sun came out. As I often do on rides, I began to sing “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone … and, she’s always gone so long ...”
Griffey thought that was quite humorous … or, maybe, that I was crazy.
At the end of the day, I would ride in with him for the last few miles; Griffey was on a bicycle he had gotten less than a week before.
Picabo Street: Olympic gold medalist, charismatic, full of smiles, she and her family now live in Alabama. She rode a mountain bike.
Lance Armstrong: He represented Livestrong (a Bo Bikes Bama sponsor). He made his appearance in Cordova and rode the rest of the way with us.
Lance rode in front, in the middle and would turn and ride to the back to see everyone. Thoughtful. At one point, we were headed up a small hill, Lance and others around him. No one was going real fast, but a look back revealed that Bo was pretty far behind.
Lance grinned and said, “Bo don’t know hills!”
We rode first the seven miles to Cordova, a town hard hit by the tornado, and stopped there to greet school children; one of their number had died in the storm. The children greeted us with smiling faces, cheers and posters that said “Go Bo, Go!”
As we rode through each town, the businesses had their doors shut, but all employees plus family members were standing out front waving, holding signs, cheering, saying “Thank you!” … every Jack’s, every gas station, a church, a kindergarten, a fitness center. We all felt like celebrities.
We ended our ride at Hibbett’s Sports in Bessemer, where a celebration with a few hundred fans awaited.
Lance got in the bus.
We took a group photo.
The PA announcer called out door-prize ticket numbers.
Bo made a short speech.
Things got calm.
I went to stand in the shade.
A middle-aged lady came up to me, said “Excuse me” and asked if I knew where the bike with the names was kept. She was referring to Bo’s bicycle — specially designed by Trek. It had on it the names of all 238 people killed in Alabama during the April 27, 2011, storms.
I told her that the bike was leaning against the bus behind a security fence. I asked if she knew someone whose name was on there.
She responded, “Yes. My brother.”
Mike Poe listened and went over to let the security person know.
I said, “I’m sorry for your loss. Where was he?”
“Just up the road. He was at work when the storm hit,” she said.
Mike motioned for the lady to come over.
She turned to me and said, “Thank you for doing what you did.”
I watched her walk over to Bo’s bicycle and kneel down.
Somehow, suddenly, I didn’t feel like I’d done that much. I had come to ride with Bo. It seemed like a fun thing to do and, at the same time, raise some money for the tornado victims.
But now, I felt a twinge of guilt for making so much of this day about me — getting to ride with Lance and Bo.
That’s not what it was about. It was about loss and remembrance, hope and rebuilding, and an anonymous lady searching for her brother’s name on a bicycle had brought this back to me abruptly.
I turned back to watch her rubbing her fingers along the frame, looking, searching.
Bo Jackson lives in Chicago now, but he came back to Alabama and did a good thing. I am glad to have been a small part of that.
Barry Nicholls, an Anniston veterinarian, is a member of the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association.