Inspired by the power that my first bike had on my life, I recently launched myfirstwheels.ca, a non profit initiative to take used kids bikes and donate them to families who could really use it.

I grew up in a crime-ridden neighbourhood where there wasn’t much hope for ‘kids at risk’.  My first bike was from a junk yard, rusty and crooked, but it literally opened up my world.

Our family couldn’t afford much, but when I was 12, I was lucky enough to be given my first bike from a family friend. It was a yellow and white banana seat bike recovered from a local junk yard, all rusty with slightly crooked handle bars. I didn’t care about how it looked. I loved it and couldn’t believe I got my first bike!

I didn’t have anyone to teach me, so I figured I would push off of a curb and hope for the best. After countless falls, I finally caught my balance and rode around the block. I did it and I was hooked!

After-school activities, lessons, sports, or summer camps were all too expensive for our family. My school friends weren’t allowed to come over to play because my neighbourhood was too dangerous. So that didn’t leave much to do when I wasn’t in school. But I could always go for a spin.

On my bike, I could explore outside of my own environment. I discovered neighbourhoods with trees and grass…no graffiti, no police cruisers rolling through, or cars jacked up on cinder blocks…kids were actually playing in the front yard, parents were outside too….there were parks with no needles or used condoms.

That bike became more than something I could do on a summer day. It opened up my world. It gave me a sense of freedom, confidence, independence and sheer happiness that I still feel today when I ride.

As soon as I could get a part-time job, I cashed in my first cheque to buy a “real” bike – a shiny new Supercycle 10 speed!  They built it in store and I rode it home.  That day, I felt I could do anything I set my mind to.

We didn’t have a car, and sometimes, not enough for bus fare, so as a teenager, those wheels got me everywhere – to school, university, to my part-time jobs, to meet friends, etc.   I know that without my bike, I would have missed out on so many opportunities.

Today, I am an avid cyclist and almost year round, my bike is my primary mode of transportation.   I believe that bicycling can empower individuals, families, and even entire communities. It’s healthy and fun, and it’s good for the planet.

My first bike – a rusty, crooked yellow bike – was a priceless gift of possibility that had a lasting impact on my life.

Today, through myfirstwheels.ca my mission is to collect, clean up, and donate gently used bikes to kids living in low-income neighbourhoods in Toronto.  Kids who are fortunate enough to have a bike grow out of them fast. Passing it on keeps bikes out of landfills, and gives other children the chance to experience the joy of owning a bike.

There are so many kids whose families can’t afford to buy them a bike.  If you can help me give a bike to a child who could really use it, I’d love to hear from you.

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