Off to Alaska — on a bicycle
by Nathan Warner
“Dream and dream big! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t live out your dreams,” James Rienstra told a crowd of students at Westwood Elementary in Zimmerman on Friday.
Rienstra is biking from Minnesota to Alaska over the next few months to raise money for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund through his project, Pedaling for Pennies.
Before stopping to speak at Westwood Elementary, Rienstra got a stirring send-off from over 1,000 Zimmerman High School, Middle School, and Elementary School students lining Fourth Street in Zimmerman.
Rienstra pedaled slowly through the crowd, handing out “high fives” to cheering students and passing bright banners wishing him well on his trip. He struggled to stay on his bike as a few students reached out and grabbed his hand.
Rienstra biked down to Westwood Elementary with a police escort, where he gave his talk to students in the gymnasium.
“When my father died of cancer, it ripped me to my core,” Rienstra said, “and I struggled with the gut-wrenching questions, ‘What can I do?’ and ‘How can I help others to not have to go through what I went through?’.”
He told the students something sparked inside him and a little voice asked him, “Why don’t you ride to Alaska to raise money for cancer research?” He broke the news to his family and they asked if he was insane. The second hour they downgraded it to crazy, but by the third they had become his enthusiastic pit crew.
On Friday, they stood proudly beside him, offering all the support they could muster behind stifled tears of farewell.
His mother, Lynn Rienstra, said people have been so incredibly generous to Pedaling for Pennies, donating jars and jugs full of pennies.
All the proceeds from Pedaling for Pennies will go to the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund based here in Minnesota. Representing the fund Friday, May 20, Roseann Shaver and Stacy Anderson attended the send-off. Roseann and her husband, Randy Shaver, founded the organization after he battled stage IV Hodgkin’s disease. Rienstra said they’ve been incredibly supportive of his venture and he’s grateful for all the help.
Many people who attended the send-off have been touched by the same sorrow that energized Rienstra to perform this feat, including Cindy Wolford and Duane Olson, who both lost a sister to cancer. They biked with Rienstra for the first few days as an extended sendoff.
“So many people have been touched by cancer,” Wolford said, “and this is such a great gesture, I’m really supportive of it.”
Rienstra’s friend Jonah Lidberg will be cycling along until Bismarck, N.D., where Rienstra will truly begin his quest alone. “I’ve got to pace him,” Lidberg smiled, “and make sure he doesn’t wear himself out this first week.”
Rienstra concluded his talk at Westwood with this advice to students, “Give as much dedication, love and passion into what you want to do to make it as big as it can be. Don’t ever give up.” Afterwards, he mounted his bike to deafening applause, rode out of the gymnasium and cycled onto the first leg of his incredible journey under a slightly drizzling sky.
Follow Rienstra’s quest online or donate to cancer research at his blog: www.pedalingforpennies.info as he cycles across the continent towards Alaska.