How it Began — A Different Path
John Benenate was an active cyclist in Portland, Oregon until an accident in 1992 changed his life forever. He fell off of a deck, broke his back and became a paraplegic.
Determined to stay with the sport he loved, John created Bicycles and Ideas for Kids' Empowerment (B.I.K.E.), a program to reach out to the faces that were missing in cycling. John says, "The sport is predominately white males and I decided I was going to transform this sport." He chose to work with inner-city kids.
The Solution — One Pedal Stroke at a Time
Children in the program meet with the coaches and mentors six days a week, not only to physically train for races but also to work on academics. John says, "We address the whole child, mind, body and spirit." For example, the children learn yoga because it increases their strength and teaches them how to breathe. They also keep journals. John says that when team members share their entries, it helps them interact and learn to care about each other. Above all else, John stresses the value of education because, he says, "There's no doubt in my mind that education is more important than bicycle racing."
John says, "In the process of teaching them to be bicycle racers we try to give them standards of hard work and high self-esteem and discipline." John and the parents agree that the children then carry those qualities into every facet of their lives. One mother says the program has given her children hope. "Seeing John as a leader has proven to them that just because you experience setbacks in your lifetime, it doesn't necessarily mean they have to hold you back."
Thirty-one children are currently involved in the program. B.I.K.E. is the third ranked team in Oregon with 16 state champions. John has opened the sport of cycling to young women in Portland— the last two women's state champions came from his team — and he believes B.I.K.E. has the biggest group of young women racing together in the Northwest.
"There's no doubt that sometimes it seems like I'm more powerful in a wheelchair than I ever was able-bodied," John says. "There's something about that which leads me to believe that there's a higher power and that something magical is going on here. The children have helped me to become a better man."