The Kyle Pease Foundation is based in Atlanta with most of their athletes reside in the neighborhoods, cities and downs around Georgia’s capital city. But as KPF continues to visit other parts of the country or their participants move to parts unknown, small KPF annexes continue to surface. One such extension of the Foundation can be found in the mountains of Colorado, where Helen Gardner moved nearly two years ago. Though Helen now calls the Rocky Mountains her home, her heart remains in The Gate City of the South.
From August 28 - 31, Helen will combine her love of mountain biking with her love of the Kyle Pease Foundation; specifically Noah Williams. The two of them will be embarking on a 167 mile, four day ride around the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway of the Rocky Mountains. That's 167 miles ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet of elevation! The duo has set a fund raising goal of $8,500 but this ride is about much more than money. It is about love, bonding and learning a little bit about themselves and each other. I caught up with Helen via phone after she had just returned from a training run earlier this week. Winded but enthusiastic as always, Helen was ready, willing and able to share some thought about her “chubby cheeked” riding partner and their journey into the Rockies.
Todd: Tell us about your meeting of the Williams' and how the bonding took place.
Helen: I met the Williams' in October of 2015 at the Marine Corps Marathon. I was there to play cheerleader and had only briefly met them before then. When they arrived from Augusta to DC after a LONG drive, I offered to help Naomi thinking she'd ask me to unload her car. Instead, she asked me to watch Noah in their room while she got situated. I had only met Kyle earlier that day, so I hadn't had much exposure to disabled persons. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement, but I wasn't going to tell her "no". I sat with him in their room. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I babbled a bit because I was nervous. Due to my newness to the situation I wasn’t sure if he could understand or hear me. I said something to him at some point and he rolled his head back and smiled with this gap-toothed grin. My heart blew open. I fell instantly in love with this kid, that smile, and those cheeks and realized that I needed to stop assuming I knew anything about anything. It was absolutely one of the best moments of my life.
Todd: What did Naomi say when you suggested the trip?
Helen: She didn't hesitate to say, "Yes!" and I was THRILLED. I felt like I was asking someone to prom. :-)
Todd: Why Noah?
Helen: Noah was the first athlete outside of Kyle that I really connected with. There's the added bonus of connecting with Naomi, who has become one of my closest friends. It only made sense that they would be who I wanted to come along.
Todd: How did you decide that Colorado would be your destination?
Helen: I moved to Colorado about a year and a half ago and fell in love immediately. I love my Kpeasey family and the fear of losing touch with them was very real. I wanted to stay connected with them, share my love of cycling and this beautiful place that I get to call home with some of my favorite people.
Todd: How are you training? How is Noah training?
Helen: I have a coach (Stacy Sims) who has experience with doing events with the foundation, so she knows what I'm facing in real life. We started training in November of last year. I've been riding and running at least five days a week for months to prepare. LOTS of climbing at elevation. Noah has been doing some bike training with Naomi. She's taken him for several rides to prep him for long hours in his trailer.
Todd: Have you ever taken on such a challenge?
Helen: Never. This is the biggest physical and mental challenge ever. There are so many parts that have gone into this. It isn't just the training, but the fundraising and, because we are doing this solo and not part of a larger event, I've also taken on EVERY logistical component as well.
Todd: What will you and Noah talk about?
Helen: Noah is non-verbal which has gotten some questions from people. "How will you be motivated if he can't tell you if you're doing a good job?" While isn't able to speak, I've done enough events with him to know how he's feeling. Our events typically consist of my constant talking and his smiling. We have our own language. That's all I need.
Todd: Who makes up your support team?
Helen: Naomi: Noah's mom, Stacy Sims: My coach, Peter Darragh: One of my shop employees who will play as mechanic/sherpa and photographer and Dennis Vanderheiden: Who runs “Colorado's Athletes in Tandem”. He is the guy who inspired this ride as he's done 14 day adventures with assisted athletes. He's here to sherpa and be the voice of experience in all of this!
Todd: Are there any additional challenges you encounter by bringing Noah along?
Helen: We'll be at pretty high altitude and we aren't sure how he's going to take that, so we've been in contact with his physicians back home. Naomi is hydrating him the week plus, leading up to this. Noah has spent a decent amount of time in push chairs for his running events, but a bike trailer for hours will be a new experience. We are breaking the 167 miles up into four days to account for his health and safety with a lot of stops along the way to check in with him. If I were doing this solo, 167 miles could be done in a day. I'm not risking that with him...plus, it gives me four days of fun with my buddy.
Todd: Tell us about how KPF has changed your life, when you became involved, and what your family thinks?
Helen: I got involved with KPF in the fall of 2015 after having just filed for divorce and feeling unsure about my entire future. I was facing my biggest life failure and meeting Brent and Kyle and all of the KPeasey people genuinely saved me. There are no coincidences in life, so they came into mine at the perfect time. They not only lifted me up when I was at my lowest by becoming my friends, but they inspired me to be and DO better. I've gotten to help run logistics for some of their biggest events which gave me to confidence to take on this challenge. They've also inspired me to take better care of myself and I'm in the best shape of my life. I consider my KPF network family.
Todd: Describe the feelings you anticipate upon completion and what do you think both Naomi and Noah will feel?
Helen: It's no secret I'm Kpeasey Resident Crier, so I anticipate happy tears and a massive feeling of accomplishment. Not just physically, but through this entire process. I hope that Naomi and Noah feel proud, too, because they've been training and prepping for this for a long time themselves. It's truly taken a group effort. At the end of every half marathon we've done, I've gotten to put Noah's finishers' medal around his neck and it's one of my favorite moments. While we don't get medals for our effort this time, I can't wait to end our final day with a kiss on those cheeks for a job well done. We will have accomplished this Big Adventure for the first time together and I anticipate the feeling of that bond being incredibly overwhelming.
Though it’s clearly not all about the money, Helen and Noah are only half way to their fundraising goal of $8500. Please take a moment and consider donating to their very special journey by visiting the link below: