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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005 07:16 am

Pedaling Jesus

Cycling enthusiast takes her faith on the road

Athens cycling enthusiast Mary Grant: “Remember what the Bible says: The first shall be last.”
What would Jesus ride? Mary Grant doesn’t hesitate. “Since he traveled so much, he would certainly ride a road bike,” she answers. “Of course, Israel also has mountains.”
She might have said “cross bike,” a hybrid design that blends mountain and road models but is known by aficionados for doing nothing very well. No matter. It’s clear that Grant wants a big bicycle shop where everyone is welcome.
The Athens cycling enthusiast is organizing the first Illinois chapter of Wheel Power, a Christian lay ministry whose members evangelize on two wheels and under their own power — with a bit of help from the Lord above. During a two-day venture on Oct. 22 and 23, Grant took 11 seventh- and eighth-graders on a 30-mile ride from Athens to Rochester, spent the night at a Methodist church, then returned the next day — after services, of course. There were no mishaps, and everyone completed the journey, even though some rode on single-speed bikes that weren’t designed for anything longer than a jaunt around the neighborhood. “It was a miracle to me,” she says. “It is not a race. Remember what the Bible says: The first shall be last.”
There’s a lot of fun in Grant’s fledgling ministry, an offshoot of Wheel Power, which is based in Virginia and got its start in 1993. Wheel Power organizes rides that take members on rides long and short, including journeys across the nation. After a dozen years and an estimated 2 million miles traveled, there’s never been a serious car-bicycle accident. “It’s the grace of God, that’s for sure,” she says. “We do everything we can to be safe. We do everything we can to follow the rules of the road.”
Although the Bible was written thousands of years before the invention of the bicycle, Grant sees many parallels between Scripture and Schwinns. Take, for instance, Ephesians, chapter 6, in which the prophet Paul talks about the breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, and helmet of salvation. Grants cites the passage when she talks to Christian groups about bicycling. “There’s just a whole list of things Paul says,” she says. “We always, always, always wear a helmet. There’s one part in there that says you have to have a loin-skirt of truth. Those Lycra bicycle shorts that fit so tight, they definitely reveal the truth.” As an experienced cyclist, Grant knows that bicycles break down barriers. Strangers who wouldn’t look twice at someone who arrives at a grocery store in an automobile will ask bicyclists where they’re from, where they’re going, and how they travel each day. “There’s no car windows to roll down,” she says. “On a bike, you’re open, you’re accessible. On street corners, Laundromats, grocery stores, we’re not confrontational. We’re just there, and we can talk. We’ve never had people give us a negative reaction. We find a lot of people want to talk about spiritual things, but they would not go to a church to ask questions.”
Grant, who says she has “only three” bicycles, first rode with Wheel Power members in southern Illinois last year when they came through while riding across the country. Since then, she’s been on Wheel Power rides in Florida, Virginia, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. She’s now the group’s youth-ministry director and plans to lead a ride across Illinois for teens next year. A former special-education teacher, Grant takes particular joy in taking folks with autism and other disabilities on tandem bicycle rides so that they can feel the wind and pedal at their own pace without fear. “They get so excited,” she says. “They get on a bicycle for the first time, and you can see them just having the time of their lives.”

For more information, contact Mary Grant at 217-636-8186 or Wheel Power at info@wheelpower.org.
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