Biker fufills a dream, mission
Pedaling cross-country to stop the cycle of abuse
To US-56 drivers, the sight of bicyclist in with a white helmet, orange-lensed sunglasses, and a bright yellow jersey early Monday morning would have seemed unremarkable. Bikers can be spotted almost every day along the route.
But Larry Heyn’s ride is remarkable, as much for its purpose as for its endurance.
When the 67-year-old Heyn applied the brakes as he turned off the highway into Marion, he had logged about 1,500 miles to get here from San Diego, on his way to Washington, District of Columbia.
As a high school and collegiate runner, Heyn dreamed of running across the country.
“This was pre-Forrest Gump,” his wife Debi said. “He would have been Forrest Gump, but his knees gave out.”
Now trekking by bike, Heyn’s mission goes beyond the personal, goes beyond simply bringing awareness to an issue he feels passionately about, child abuse.
“It goes right to my heart,” Larry said. “Child abuse is a depressing subject to talk about and get in involved in, but at the same time it’s everywhere. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t know someone who’s been abused as a child.”
Getting people involved to address the problem is what Larry’s ride is all about.
“This is not a money-raising thing,” Debi said. “We want you to commit to helping somebody, or a group of somebodies, who have been abused. That’s what this is about.”
Larry had fleeting second thoughts about his ability to make the ride as the Minneapolis, Minnesota couple made their way to San Diego for an April 7 start.
“I saw some of these hills and I said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if my training is going to be adequate.’ The first day out of San Diego you go from sea level to 4,200 feet. Some of those hills were 5 and 6 percent grades.”
Not only did he make it, he put in an extra five miles for good measure. His goal is to average 50 miles a day, although it varies according to where the couple decides to stop for the night.
His longest single day ride, 75 miles, came as he headed out of El Paso, Texas, into New Mexico.
“We’re coming down from elevation, I’ve got a tail wind, the pavement was really smooth; I was just flying along,” Larry said.
“If he’d have had a sail, we’d have been in Kansas before we wanted to be,” she said.
For the most part, it’s been a smooth ride, Larry said.
“It’s like I have a guardian angel that no matter what direction I’m going, I get a tail wind — until I got to Kansas anyway,” he said.
“Kansas can’t make up its mind where the wind is going,” Debi said.
The real work of the trek comes through meeting people, like when Debi leapfrogs Larry’s bike in their RV and stops in towns to interact and pass out cards bearing their self-chosen venture name, “Shield the Children,” or when they take Sundays off to attend church and mingle with locals.
“There have been lots of people who’ve connected, people who have been abused themselves as children, those whose husband or boyfriend has abused their children,” Larry said. “It’s somewhat energizing because you know there’s a reason to be doing this.”
Although Larry and Debi have been married 33 years, raising children after a whirlwind 10-day courtship and subsequent marriage left them little time to really get to know each other until the kids were grown and they retired.
“When I retired and Debi was still working in a school cafeteria, I thought, ‘Boy, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together,’” Larry said. “Then we went on our first church mission and it’s like, ‘Are we going to be able to live together in close quarters?’”
The trek together has been good for their relationship.
“We’ve learned a lot about each other,” Larry said.
“I think he’s learned he can’t live without me,” Debi said.
The Heyns have a mission to accomplish, but also a schedule to meet, and so far they’re a bit ahead in their goal to reach Washington.
“It was going to be 62 or 63 days of riding, which would put it late June,” Larry said. “Assuming we don’t lose any days to weather, it will be late June.”
Debi wouldn’t mind if they slowed down a bit.
“He doesn’t want to be in D.C. for the 4th of July, and I do,” she said with a chuckle. “You never know. Things can change.”
What won’t change is what sent Larry off across the country in the first place.
“The goal is being able to meet people and invite them to learn more about child abuse and then commit themselves to doing something about it,” Larry said.
More information about Larry’s trek, as well as information about child abuse and neglect, is available online at www.shieldthechildren.com.
Last modified May 17, 2018