Everybody remembers their first bicycle – from the way it gleaned in the sun, the first fall when learning to ride and, finally, the triumphant feel of riding on your own. Receiving that first set of wheels is often your first taste of freedom.
"My first bike was blue with yellow wheels," said 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. "That was the bike I started learning how to ride a bike on, and I just remember crashing a lot back in Turlock where I grew up."
Kaepernick, along with a dozen other 49ers players took a ride down memory lane on Monday morning as they helped assemble 49 brand new bikes for underprivileged boys and girls and foster children in the Bay Area.
"We are building bikes at our annual Holiday Bike Build with UnitedHealthcare, TurningWheels for Kids, and PODS," said Maggie Cuneo from 49ers Community Relations. "Tomorrow we'll be revealing 49 bikes to the Bill Wilson Center's foster care program and Quetzal House. All of these bikes are going to children who may not have ever owned a bike before and have never even ridden one. They lead itinerant lives and now they're going to have something to call their own and take wherever they may go."
This year, the two-part event, culminating in a Health and Bike Safety Fair at the Bill Wilson Center in Santa Clara, would not have been made possible without the sponsorship of UnitedHealthcare, which has teamed up with the 49ers all season in the community. Dozens of UnitedHealthcare employees volunteered their time and energy to help with the build.
"UnitedHealthcare is excited to volunteer time and provide bikes for Turning Wheels for Kids," Vice President, UnitedHealthcare of California Anthony Campbell said. "Through this collaboration with the San Francisco 49ers, we hope children will be able to live a more active and healthy lifestyle."
Also riding tandem with the 49ers was TurningWheels for Kids, a non-profit organization that purchases and provides brand new bicycles for children in the Bay Area in hopes to draw them outdoors and give them a sense of accomplishment and self esteem.
"It is a rite of passage to have a bike to be able to get from one place to another, which is amazing for a child," said Jeff Burnham, board director of TurningWheels for Kids. "We're all about kids, health, and getting off the couch and getting onto bike."
TurningWheels provides bikes for an array of non-profits – the 49 built by the 49ers and UnitedHealthcare will go to foster children onsite at the Bill Wilson Center with eight of the bikes going to the young ladies at the Quetzal House, who all received their new bikes during the Health and Bike Safety Fair in Santa Clara. The culmination event served as a fun and interactive way for the children and their parents to learn about bike safety and healthy living, complete with a nutritional cooking lesson by chef extraordinaire Greg St. Clair of the Avenir Group and his staff.
"With food, we kind of approach it as if you can't pronounce it or you don't recognize it, you shouldn't be eating it," Greg St. Clair said. "I shopped for all this stuff, not through a restaurant, but at an actual grocery store so that we could price it out. This entire thing comes out to about $3.87 per serving, which is actually much cheaper than fast food. You can have a lot of fun cooking - it's a hugely social thing. If you can learn the fundamentals of cookingat an age like this you can carry it on through the rest of your life and it becomesfun to eat healthy. Hopefully they'll enjoy what they cooked, as well as the benefits of eating healthy.
Greg St. Clair had a hand in the kitchen from 49ers alumnus Dennis Brown and Elizabeth Smith, wife of 49ers QB Alex Smith.
"We've split into two teams and each team is doing a quick-fire challenge," said St. Clair. "I have Elizabeth Smith's team doing an Asian stir fry with a little bit of free range chicken, and Dennis is doing a classic Italian Bolognese sauce that's going to be put over rigatoni. So, there will be a taste test and the kids will be judging it."
"It's great that we're going to teach some positive ways of cooking," Dennis Brown said. "I cook for myself, so it's going to be good for me because I can see some of the healthier ways to cook using organic ingredients. We're also going to teach some knife techniques, prep techniques, and different ways of making the food. The end result is going to be a good meal, but it's going to be low calorie. These nutritional foods are going to help build that energy and keep these kids going for a day of school, or whatever they have to do."
With childhood obesity on the rise in recent years this is a pivotal time to promote healthy habits in young children. What better way than to get them on a bicycle, while also promoting good practices in the kitchen.
"It's important to know a little bit about health, the proper things we should be making in the kitchen and basic health and safety," said Elizabeth Smith, a professional trained chef. "Right now, we're cooking, plating and we're going to try it."
49ers safety Michael Thomas felt like a kid again. He reminisced about his first bike, as he built his first bike, with excitement in his eyes.
"This is the first bike I've ever built and it's a lot of fun," Michael Thomas said. "I was about six years old when I received my first bike from my godmother. I learned how to ride a two-wheel bike before I learned how to use training wheels or anything and scared my parents because I rode around with no fear. So, hopefully these kids are safe and have a great first experience with their bike like I did."
The bikes assembled will make perfect gifts for children who have not yet experienced the thrill of riding a bike for the first time.