Friday, August 1, 2008

Dozens hit the road to cycle for sight


In a flood of blue, white and yellow jerseys, a convoy of cyclists wound their way through Santa Barbara and headed south on the first leg of a three-day journey to San Diego.
While a 220-mile jaunt would be impressive for most cyclists, even more stunning is the fact that a contingent of those riders can’t see the vivid scenery along the coastal route, the road speeding along below, or even the jersey of the bicyclist in front of them.

A handful of visually impaired athletes climbed into the “stoker” seat, or rear position, of tandem bikes to participate in the 4th Annual Cycling for Sight bike ride, departing from the Braille Institute’s Santa Barbara Center on Friday morning.
Jim Miller, a 77-year-old San Diego resident, went through final preparations with his sighted captain, Hank Peterson, before heading to the starting line.
“I’ve only been doing this, riding tandem, since I became blind,” he said.
Although he lost his sight six years ago, Miller has long been a cyclist. As a 9-year-old, he rode three miles a day on a newspaper route. In his teens, he often went on lengthy rides and delivered telegrams in Pasadena and San Marino.
This will be the first time he has attempted a three-day, 220-mile trek, although he has plans to pedal across the country some day. Peterson said the duo is well prepared for the trip.
“We’ve been practicing for about six months now,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”
Miller, Peterson and their fellow cyclists hope to raise awareness of blindness and retinal diseases, in addition to increasing support for the Braille Institute’s Youth and Career Services Program.
More than 50 riders headed out on Friday, traveling 75 miles south to Pepperdine to lodge overnight. They hit the road again on Saturday for Laguna Beach, then on to San Diego on Sunday.
“It’s raising awareness, providing an opportunity for the visually impaired to ride, and it’s also a fundraiser,” Peterson said.
Through the group’s website,, a total of $72,399 has been raised for programs that foster independent living skills and build self-confidence for youth afflicted by impaired vision.
David Shalinksy, a founder of the bike trek, said the goal is to raise $100,000. Nearly three-quarters of the way to the target, he said the group is hoping to inspire donations along the way and urged people to visit the website.
As captain Dave White guided his stoker, Erika Garcia, toward the starting line for her second consecutive Cycling for Sight ride, he proudly described how Garcia became the first blind student from the Braille Institute’s youth program to ride the length of the route last year.
White, who organized the Blind Stokers Club, said he is also proud of the fact that 10 teams involved in the club are participating in this year’s event.
“This is definitely a banner year,” he said.
Members of the San Diego-based club have been training for months now, getting to know each other and learning how to work together.
Miller and Peterson said their training has definitely paid off, although Miller admitted that riding blind can be a heart-pounding experience at times.
“I can barely see, so when we come close to things I get scared because I don’t know if we’ll hit it or not,” he said.
“It’s a trust thing,” Peterson added, and Miller quickly agreed that he has faith in his captain to steer them straight.
From 77-year-old Miller to 13-year-old Harrison Tu — a duo known as the “bookends” — the group of cyclists is varied in age and experience.
Nicholas Jackson, 22, is a Santa Barbara resident who pedaled off on his third consecutive ride. He typically participates in the first leg of the trip, stopping in Summerland after finishing the day with a tough climb over Ortega Hill.
“It’s a nice variety of terrain along the way,” Jackson said.
His father said they planned to pay a visit to Fiesta’s Mercado del Norte on Friday evening to sample some tasty cuisine in celebration of Jackson’s ride.

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