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Children pedal for peace
Simon Thomas
6/11/2004



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“You’re in the wrong gear,” he yelled. The pedals of my bicycle were spinning around as fast as a gyroscope, but I was still lagging behind my fellow teenage rider, Brandon Liang, 20, a freshman at Boston University. I had ridden my bicycle every day during high school, but today I couldn’t keep up and was out of breath after a few minutes.

“You need to downshift,” Keith Ware, the adult coordinator of the Pedals of Peace Bike Tour yelled from the RV behind me.

Not sure how to do this on the new road bike that I was loaned, I hit a button -— my legs were suddenly turning like the Tea Cup ride at Disneyworld and I was going nowhere. Exhausted, I pulled over to a gas station. There, Ware, formerly a competitive biker, gave me detailed instructions: “On the open road, you probably need to be on the 5th or 6th gear,” he explained. “That means the front gear is the smaller gear and the back one is the 5th gear away from the inside.”

Once readjusted, I could finish my 20-mile relay shift, though out of breath, from Lagrange to Elkhart, Indiana. This small leg was part of the 700-mile “Save the Kids Ride” from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, Illinois. The Pedals of Peace bike team began their journey with a cruise through our nation’s capitol and ended with a similar tour of downtown Chicago. They followed much of the route of renowned bicyclist Lance Armstrong, including the Allegheny Trail through Pennsylvania.

The 13 teenagers who rode the whole length to raise awareness about the human rights of children had asked me to come along on their trip so that I could get a behind-the-scenes look at their journey. I was in for a surprise when they asked me to actually ride with one of them, that morning at 5:00 AM, the time they usually began to ride. I felt I needed the firsthand experience and maybe didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of these determined teens.

So I donned their signature yellow Save the Kids Ride jerseys and black spandex shorts, chewed on a dry energy bar and washed it down by chugging an energy drink. Though I was prepared nutritionally, and exercised regularly, my body just wasn’t ready for the shock of hitting the road all-out. After my relay was done, I was grateful for the opportunity to rest in the RV while the intrepid young travelers continued to ride in the early morning. Lying there on the mattress in the back of the RV, my legs aching, I had much deeper respect for these youngsters.

These mature teens, ranging in age from 11 to 20, had banded together from across the country to make this trek. Why? Brian Nieh, the teen coordinator, explained that they were concerned for children being persecuted around the world. He was particularly moved by the stories of the children in China being harmed because their families practiced a traditional exercise called Falun Gong, based upon the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

“We have decided to bike to Chicago to tell people the stories of all these innocent children,” Nieh said in his kickoff speech on May 13th. “They are suffering, and voiceless to tell anyone; thus we have taken it upon ourselves to make sure their unspoken words and stories are heard by the world.”

And they did. As can be seen on their website, www.pedalsofpeace.org, they received press wherever they went. They were covered by newspapers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and as even as far away as Italy. Upon their arrival in Chicago, NBC News interviewed the weary but smiling riders. One of anchors spoke admiringly about the teens after he interviewed them. He was touched by the kids’ willingness to work for human rights. “You heard it from the babe’s mouth,” he said.

States and cities issued proclamations in support of the Save the Kids Ride. Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner congratulated the riders, writing, “It is always gratifying to see young people take a stand for peace and human rights throughout our world.”

At their stop in Cleveland, Mayor Jane L. Campbell, issued a proclamation in support of “the young, valiant teens of Pedals of Peace [who] serve as an inspiration to all citizens as they have found a positive and uplifting way to teach peace and understanding.”

Similar proclamations were expected in South Bend, Michigan City, and Gary, Indiana. Jack Ryan of the mayor’s office of South Bend, IN welcomed the riders, saying, “You’ve made my day.” He gave the riders South Bend pins and bottled water. He even took a try at learning the Falun Gong exercises. A smile came over his 70-year-old face as he stretched his body.

It seems that these teenagers have indeed brought a voice to the children who had been voiceless, a voice that is now echoing around the world. “This is the best journey I’ve ever had,” said Francis Yang, mother of rider Brandon Liang, after its conclusion in Chicago. “Everybody should have one.”

As the teens celebrated in Chicago’s Chinatown, plans were underway for similar tours in countries from Canada, to Argentina, and as a far away as Taiwan. The pure wish is the same one. As one of the young riders, Kitty of Maryland put it, “I’d rather save others, than worry about my self interest.”

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