I realized the other day that the two times Austin was featured in the newspaper both included a bike. I wish however that the first story had been his only one.
The first article was of Austin when he was 9 years old. It was about him heading up our team for the Relay For Life. In the story, it was mentioned that he could be riding his bike like most 9 year olds but was instead knocking on doors and raising money for Relay.
(I now find history repeating itself as Noah, now 9, is on our Relay team and is going door to door to raise funds. We are having the team in honor of Austin because there was never a year he didn't participate in some form. While he can't be with us physically this year, we know he'll be there in spirit. And I know he is proudly looking down on us for carrying his torch.)
I still remember the day Austin learned to ride his bike. He was around 7 and it was summertime. We lived in a little house on Rochester Road with a long, shotgun backyard. Austin would wobble across the yard, practicing and trying so hard to keep the bike upright. His cousin, Larry, was the one who helped him figure it out. In a matter of moments, it seemed he was flying around the house, full of smiles and confidence, from his latest achievement. ...Funny how you can go from shaky wobbles to speeding with ease in a few peddle pushes.
Austin was thrilled when we later moved to a neighborhood that was more bike friendly. Our street is in a quiet subdivision loop and all the children ride their bikes, play and walk around it all year long. In fact, it was right outside our house, in the front drive, that Austin passed on his skills to Noah and taught him to ride. Again, one of my boys went from wobbles to happily zooming around the loop within a few tries. I remember Austin's smile, for Noah, almost as big as it was for himself on his first ride.
We have a shed to hold their bikes but if the weather was warm, they were rarely stored there. Instead, the bikes held a permanent spot at the end of our drive, ready for them when they came home from school. During the summer, the boys rode their bikes several times a day.
In the months before Austin passed, he was riding on a daily basis, with greater speeds and distances. He would either take a small path that connected our neighborhood to downtown Beaver Dam or we would drive him to the fire station. From there, he could ride with more variety, instead of going around and around one circle in our subdivision. He would also ride his bike to a sweet elderly lady's home where he mowed her lawn. I know he felt so mature and grown-up, knowing he could ride unsupervised, even if only a short distance from home, to a "job" that gave him a little extra spending money. Ms. Embry thought so much of Austin and enjoyed his company, as he not only mowed her lawn but always came inside for a cold RC and a friendly chat.
The night Austin left for a bike ride that would be his last, was just like any other evening. Because it was dark, he was limited to our subdivision and I never hesitated in letting him go. He had been so helpful earlier that day that both Tim and I agreed to the ride when he asked. I never imagined he wouldn't return.
In the beginning, it was thought that the bike ride caused his death. We assumed, he was riding too fast and flipped. I hated that bike and couldn't understand how he couldn't survive a minor bike wreck. I questioned how Tim and I survived a motorcycle wreck but he didn't. How I wished I had never let him walk out that door. So many "if onlys" clouded us with guilt. Of course, in the end, we discovered the bike had nothing to do with his passing.
Sometimes I wonder if he knew on some level and that is why he asked to ride. Maybe he knew it would be easier if he left us from there, instead of inside the house. Or maybe he just wanted one last ride - to feel the air hit his face, rustling through his hair, to feel the freedom, wheels spinning below your feet. I hope it was his last memory, as it would have been a happy one.