TAMPA — Bike riding reindeer, elves, Indian chiefs and ballerinas peddled down Bayshore Boulevard Saturday afternoon so that underprivileged children can peddle this Christmas, too.
For the third year, Onbikes, a non-profit group set up by Tampa businessman and former Florida State University quarterback Drew Weatherford and some friends, hosted the Winter Wonder Ride. And again this year, the event doubled in size.
“Last year, we raised enough to buy 150 bicycles for kids who otherwise may get nothing for Christmas,” Weatherford said. And with more than 500 participants this year, he hopes to double that purchase this time.
“I grew up in a big family, one of nine, and we always went on bike rides,” Weatherford recalled. “I remember getting my first bike and the freedom it represented. It was the first piece of property that was mine.”
He has seen the look a new bike can put on a child’s face and that’s what it’s all about, he said. Again this year, he and his crew will host an event at the Dream Center of Tampa Bay in Ybor City to hand out the bikes to children. The under privileged youngsters, selected for the bikes by various agencies in the greater Tampa Bay area, will come from Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.
“When they come in to pick up a bike, they light up,” he said. “They immediately zoom in on a bike. It’s like nothing else.”
That feeling of giving drew the participants.
Four friends, dressed as a team of reindeer - Barry Jackson, Renier Gobea, Steven Lanza and Christian Garcia - posed for pictures in Hyde Park Village before the ride, then jumped in their bicycle built for four to represent the Teal Recovery Project for women fighting cervical cancer.
“We wanted to join forces with Drew on this because we love the premise behind the ride,” Jackson said. “That’s certainly why we’re all here.”
Maryrose Wersan joined her friend Angela Clark and her 8-year-old son, Layne Clark, all from Spring Hill, to participate in the six-mile ride, sponsored by The Tampa Tribune.
“I’m an occasional bike rider, but this is all about Christmas and giving something to those in need,” Wersan said, as she prepared for the ride.
Chris Hallissey, with Children’s Home, Inc., brought five kids from the Tampa group home to participate. “Obviously, this is good exercise for the kids, but it’s also about just being part of our community,” he said.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who helped kick off this year’s ride, called it “an amazing event put together by some amazing people.”