Southern Made

Heart Of The Cycle: Why These Three People Get On The Bike Each April

Find out why three people get on bikes each April for a ride that’s like none other.

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On the surface, Neill Curzon, Kim Cross, and Ashley Mims are three people who don’t have a lot in common.

Neill is an Englishman who works in computers at a bank. Kim is an author and athlete. And Ashley is a substitute teacher in Wetumpka, Alabama. But something will bring them and several hundred more together on April 29. A bike ride like none other: Bo Bikes Bama.

Now in its sixth year, the event attracts hundreds of riders united for a common cause: to raise money for emergency storm shelters in the state of Alabama. Legendary multi-sport athlete and Bessemer, AL native Bo Jackson founded the ride after the devastating storms of April 27, 2011 ripped through the South, claiming hundreds of lives and destroying homes and communities. The event, which draws everyone from weekend warriors to celebrity athletes, has raised more than $1 million for the Alabama Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund since its creation.

Here’s the story behind three participants who are returning again to Bo Bikes Bama, and why each of them ride.

Neill Curzon

Why would an Englishman who lives South of Manchester plan a holiday in Alabama? For Neill Curzon, it started when he watched ESPN’s “30 For 30: You Don’t Know Bo.” Neill attended high school in Florida as an exchange student and developed a fondness for American football, as well as British football.

“You have to admire a man who turns down being a first round draft pick,” Neill said. He wondered what Bo Bikes Bama was (Bo wore a shirt from the event during the documentary). After doing some research, Neill decided “it looked like a fun thing to do,” and he and his wife Julie booked a ticket to America.

Neill said that he had learned about the tornado devastation from ESPN accounts. “I remember hearing that people came from all over to help with the rebuilding, putting rivalries aside.”

Neill and Julie will travel to America again this year so he can ride in Bo Bikes Bama, with side trips to Alabama beaches and Monroeville, where they will see a production of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Is Alabama their only vacation this year? No. But it might be the most meaningful.

“I remember hearing that people came from all over to help with the rebuilding, putting rivalries aside.”

Kim Cross

Kim Cross was a travel editor at Southern Living when the storms ripped through the South. After reporting and writing an August 2011 story for the magazine*, Kim wrote “What Stands In A Storm: A True Story of Love and Resilience in the Worst Superstorm in History.”

The reporting from that time — and the people she came to know — touched her so deeply that spreading awareness about weather preparedness has become an important part of Kim’s work and life, and she frequently speaks on the subject. She’s also ridden in Bo Bikes Bama since year one. An avid cyclist and founder of non-profit Magic City Cycle Chix, she said she jumped at the chance to participate. Kim says that the race has helped keep the story of the April 2011 storms — and the need for safety — at the forefront, which is tough to do in our 24/7 news cycle.

“Shortly after these storms, Bin Laden was assassinated and the town of Joplin, Missouri was wiped out by tornadoes, and media coverage quickly switched,” Kim said. “I think Bo knew that something needed to be done to keep the spotlight on Alabama during a time in which recovery was not over.”

The fact that Bo chose cycling stood out too, Kim said. “He could have chosen to do a baseball event or a football event. I guess he chose the bike because he wanted to be on the ground with the people, and the bike became a great equalizer. I mean, he’s still the greatest athlete of all time, and good at cycling, but not built for the sport. It takes a lot of confidence to get on the bike and ride with everyone else.”

Kim, who rides with her husband Eddie and Austin (third grade), says every year is special, but she’ll never forget the first. “We’d stop and stand on the foundation of where a house used to be, and then came a natural moment of silence,” Kim said. “I’ve ridden in a lot of charity rides, but Bo Bikes Bama is different. This only happens in Alabama, and because of Bo.”

Ashley Mims

“April 27 is a normal day for the rest of the world,” said Ashley Mims. “It isn’t for me. For me, every day is April 27.”

Ashley lost her 21-year-old daughter Loryn Brown in the tornadoes. Along with her roommate Danielle Downs and their friend Will Stevens, Ashley was killed when the tornado struck her Tuscaloosa home.

Ashley, a mother of three other children and substitute teacher, rode in 2015, and will return this year — with a photo of Loryn pinned to her back. Loryn was set to start class at the University of Alabama, which had always been her dream. She’d grown up around campus, with her father Shannon, who played on the 1992 Championship Team.

“Loryn was a young lady filled with so many hopes and dreams,” Ashley says. “In her 21 years, she shared more joy than some people have in 80 years.”

“April 27 is a normal day for the rest of the world. It isn’t for me. For me, every day is April 27.”

Ashley says she participates in Bo Bikes Bama as a way to keep her daughter’s memory alive. She does speaking engagements to share her story, and encourage people to be weather aware. And she’s currently training for the race on her son’s bike. “She was my best friend, and I was blessed to have 21 years with her,” Ashley said. “But there will never be any new memories.”

Ashley said she fears that as the years go by, people are less connected to the deadly 2011 storms. “I usually get 10 to 15 media calls for interviews,” she said. “This year there have been none.” And during recent threats of severed weather, she became frustrated seeing people make light of the risk on Facebook.

“If I can prevent one other person going through what I have gone through — that is my greatest hope.”

Ashley got involved with Bo Bikes Bama at the urging of Kim (the two became close during Kim’s reporting for her book). “The night before the 2015 race, I almost backed out,” Ashley said. “I thought there was no way I could do it.” But she completed the ride with a houndstooth scarf tied around her handlebars and her waist. She got to meet Bo and share Loryn’s story.

“Bo didn’t have to do what he’s done,” Ashley said. “A lot of college players that go to the NFL don’t ever give back like this. But Bo has continued to stand up for us.”

* Editor’s note: I, too, worked on this story.

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