The asthma Mark Reynolds faced as a small child in St. Joseph, Mo., was so severe that doctors told his mother more than once that he may not live through the night. But over time, his symptoms subsided and he started doing things that healthy, active children do.
“Mark’s passion for bike riding began at an early age. He would ride a four-wheel toddler bike for hours,” recalled his mother, Dona Reynolds. “Once he learned to ride a bike, he never wanted to stop.”
As an adult, he became a competitive cyclist and eventually moved to California so he could bike year round. Mark wanted to share his love for biking with children who might not otherwise have the opportunity, so by the time he was 21, he had begun donating bikes anonymously to disadvantaged children at Christmas.
But life can change in an instant. On Jan. 8, 2004, Mark, then 35, was killed by a 112-pound mountain lion as he was fixing the broken chain on his bike in Whiting Ranch & Wilderness Park in Orange County, Calif. Mark’s fatal mauling was the first ever confirmed human death from a mountain lion attack in Orange County. The shocking news made headlines around the world.
“Losing a child it is one of the most devastating things to ever happen to any parent,” says Reynolds, who says she realized even during her anguish that she faced a choice. “We can bury our heads in the sand and cry forever, or we can reach up to God and ask him, ‘What can I do to make something great from this terrible tragedy?’”
Reynolds turned her unthinkable misfortune into a mission, honoring her son’s memory by setting up the Mark Reynolds Memorial Bike Fund Inc., a not-for-profit that continues his efforts to give bikes and helmets to children who couldn’t afford them. “It seemed to be a unanimous decision by family and friends to carry on [Mark’s work],” says Reynolds.
Since its inception in 2004, the group has given shiny new bicycles to more than 1,500 children in seven states—California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Texas. She partners with the local schools, churches, and Boys & Girls Clubs to identify children aged 5 to 12 who are longing for a bike. Kids with disabilities are recipients of specialized bikes.
“Parents are thrilled to know that their children have been awarded a bike,” says Reynolds. “For many families, the luxury of a new bike is just not in their budget,”
To support her efforts, she arranges a host of fundraisers—including a 5K run, shirt and candle sales, benefit rides, and raffles—which have raised a total of $200,000—$40,000 this year alone.
Reynolds personally chooses bikes and helmets to suit each child’s age, size, gender, and specific needs, searching for the best prices she can find. All the bikes are professionally assembled by area bike shop volunteers.
“Kids faces are lit up like Christmas trees when they receive their bikes at the giveaways,” says Kirby Strong, also of St. Joseph, who has assembled bikes for the group since 2010. “If more people were like Dona, the world would be a better place.”
For the giveaways in Reynolds’ hometown of St. Joseph, the children and parents gather at three local schools. “I love to interact with the children, help them to learn to ride, and educate them about bike safety,” says Reynolds.
At the giveaway event, a poster of Mark sits on an easel as she proudly tells the story about her son’s love of donating bikes and turns to the photo and says, “Mark, I hope we’ve made you proud.”
Reynolds is sometimes asked to provide bikes for children with special needs; the custom bicycles can cost up to $2,500. “It’s amazing how Dona takes care of every single detail to help the children;” says parent Karen Del Muro, whose son Nathan has Down syndrome. “Dona researches [equipment] and talks to teachers and therapists to make sure that each bike fits the needs of the child.”
Nathan lacked the balance and coordination to learn to ride a bike and rarely speaks, but he made it clear he desperately wanted to bike like his brothers do. “He would sit in the driveway and belly cry when his brothers would ride bikes,” recalls Del Muro.
Nathan was 13 years old when Reynolds gave him a large custom tricycle that allowed him to ride a bike for the first time. “Dona is the reason that our son can ride a tricycle,” says Del Muro. “It’s so much fun to see him glow, clapping and throwing his fists in the air as he honks his horn. He rides his bike to show people that he’s like everyone else.”
Reynolds not only provides bicycles but also spreads the joy of cycling to many more children through biking events. For the past seven years, Reynolds has hosted an event that teaches children the rules of the road and fosters a love for biking. The Kids Tour of St. Joseph is a series of free summer bike rides held in local parks for children aged 3 to 14.
“There are no winners and no losers—everyone is a winner,” says Reynolds, who plans the courses, gets permits from the city to close the streets on the route, and recruits 40 volunteers. The 400 participants receive lunch and a medal of honor and qualify for prizes.
In the 11 years since Mark died, Reynolds reflects on the growth of her organization. The rapid expansion and far-reaching impact sometimes surprise her. “I don’t believe that you can go wrong in helping others, just by doing small things first and building up from there. It only takes one person to get things started.”