Photo courtesy of Graham Baden.
Calling all Special Olympics fans, bicycle aficionados and those who barely know a thing about the two-wheeled human-powered machine. Long Beach’s beloved Pedal Movement (you know, those smiling people who valet and tune-up your bicycle for free when you want to check out a movie at the beach or hang out at a farmers market?) needs volunteers to assist in the disassembly of the athletes’ bicycles this Saturday starting at 8:30AM.
Last weekend, Graham Baden, Pedal Movement’s administrative director, and 16 very helpful volunteers dedicated an entire day of sweat and fun to assemble (and tune up) nearly 200 bicycles to ensure the safety and high performance of each Special Olympic athlete competing in the cycling events.
“We did everything we could to get these bikes not just rideable, but in the best operating condition that they could be in,” he said.
“Thank God I had the help that I did because it wouldn’t have gotten done,” added a very thankful Baden.
Bicycles were shipped to the city from 35 different countries and all arrived in varying states of cleanliness and disrepair. At some point, says Baden, each bike got a tune-up while it was in Long Beach.
Local cycling and city enthusiast Blair Cohn, who was hired as Long Beach's competition manager and venue director for the seaside cycling portion of the Special Olympics, said, “It was a daunting task. We had 170 some bikes to put together of all shapes, sizes and conditions, from carbon fiber to ones that were just kind of patched together.”
Cohn told the Post that the race venue wasn’t built until the night before the competition, meaning the bikes had to be unpacked, assembled, moved, unloaded, and racked by country all in quite a short amount of time. Now that the week is waning, volunteers are needed to make sure the reverse happens and that the athletes’ receive their bikes in time to ship them back to their home countries.
However, as much as organizing and running an event like this can be a trying feat of coordinating many moving parts, including not only ensuring the safe arrival and operation of each bicycle, but the management of the entire day’s schedule, it’s also extremely rewarding.
“At first I was so buried with the operations and getting the races started and all the systems in place that the first day was a blur,” said Cohn. “But the rest of the week, you really get an appreciation because you get to spend more time with all the athletes and it may sound cliche but it’s very inspiring, it’s great to watch them compete.”
Baden iterated that, from top to bottom, it was a learning experience for him as well as all of the volunteers.
He said, “I don’t do a whole lot of thinking about it while I’m sweating and getting my fingers dirty, but over the course of the week since then, and going down to the races and seeing the athletes come to pick up their bikes and how appreciative they were and the fact that these people came from all over the world and they took the time out of their lives to do something that’s hard for somebody without a physical or intellectual disability…”
He added, “It’s humbling just to see people from all over the world get together and meet each other on an equal playing field.”
No experience with bicycle mechanics is necessary to volunteer. In fact, Baden encourages newcomers to look at this as an opportunity to learn something new. Baden says he had two volunteers last Saturday who had barely touched a bike mechanically, albeit to ride it, that are now even more interested in getting involved in the industry.
“It’s going to take a while this Saturday, but it’s gotta get done,” he said. “It was a lot of people digging deep and putting in a lot of hard work and sweating. But, you know there was music and we all had lunch, so there were good times all around. If it’s anything like last Saturday, it should go pretty smoothly.”
Those interested in volunteering can message Pedal Movement via Facebook for more information or call (562) 756-5753. The start time is 8:30AM or as early you can make it; meet at the tent next to the parking lot by Shoreline Drive up to Ocean Boulevard by Alfredo's bicycle rentals.