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Article updated: 10/25/2013 9:18 AM

Lombard employee brings bikes, joy to African nation

By Susan Dibble

He's always been a bit of an adventure junkie, Dave Gorman admits.

Lombard's assistant director of public works has canoed through the Everglades, kayaked along the coast of Hawaii and competed in Ironman triathlons and marathons.

But the bike ride he and a friend took this past July across the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa was his most challenging -- and satisfying -- trek yet. Gorman was helping to bring cycling and joy to orphaned children in a country where he served in the Peace Corps more than 20 years ago.

"Until this trip, I've never seen a bicycle in Lesotho," said Gorman, the founder of Bikes for Lesotho. "(Now) bicycling is in the news. Kids around the country know about bicycling. They all want bikes."

Gorman, who served in the Peace Corps from 1989 to 1992, said he regularly dreams of Lesotho and has maintained contact with friends he made there. He returned there on his honeymoon in 1996, and again in 2010 with his wife and two daughters. It was during that 2010 trip that he took note that a new road was being built across the interior of the country, that the old road was now paved, and that he had never seen a bicycle in Lesotho.

Two years later, after finishing a "century" 100-mile bike ride from Chicago to Milwaukee, he mentioned to his biking group that he was thinking of riding across Lesotho. His friend and fellow cyclist Jeff Teppema of LaGrange Park immediately declared that he would join him.

An Internet search turned up the Lesotho Cycling Association, a new not-for-profit that had just received its first shipment of bikes from Mike's Bikes Africa Foundation in California.

Gorman learned that he could help by raising the $20,000 it costs to collect, repair and ship 500 used bikes in one shipping container. He and Teppema set to work, writing a pamphlet, creating a Facebook page, talking to newspapers and scheduling presentations. They raised the $20,000 in three months and the first 500 bikes were sent out in May. Gorman now has funding to send out another 500 bikes, donated by Working Bikes in Chicago, in early November.

Biking in Lesotho

Gorman paid his own way to Lesotho and biked across the country on his wife's old mountain bike, not to raise funds, but to raise awareness, he explained. Teppema accompanied him on the trek.

"I knew that two Americans riding their bicycles through the mountains was going to cause a sensation. We did," he said, adding that the trip was reported by Lesotho's radio and TV stations and in newspapers.

The trip also was a boon to their fundraising efforts here, Gorman said. He's given two dozen presentations to service clubs and church groups, and received one large donation from a private foundation.

"I'm quite confident that if we did not do this ride, we would not now be looking at 1,000 bikes. The fundraising would be much more modest," he said.

Gorman admits he approached the trip with some trepidation. He didn't fear for his safety, he said, but he knew the trek would be difficult. Since Lesotho is in the Southern Hemisphere, it was winter in July and temperatures dipped below freezing at night. Altitudes ranged from 1 to 2 miles.

"We were so nervous the night before we set out, I was nauseous," he said. "Every day it was a few mountains. They were very tiring days."

During their nine-day trip, Gorman and Teppema covered 350 miles across Lesotho and back. They biked 200 of them and friends in Lesotho provided transportation where roads didn't exist. Gorman said they were warmly welcomed everywhere.

"As we approached villages, kids would run out to greet us. Adults would come out and ask us where were we going. Everybody was excited and curious," he said.

Toward the end of the trip, they attended a biking competition organized by the Lesotho Cycling Association. Gorman said he met not just cyclists who were competing in the race, but kids who had received bikes from the May shipment.

"It was wonderful," he said, "to see little kids having so much fun."

Teppema, who had never been to Lesotho before, also said seeing the kids was the highlight of the trip.

"Seeing firsthand local kids participating in a mountain bike race -- many of whom were riding bicycles that contributions from our donors made possible -- really moved me," he said in an email.

More bikes

Gorman said he plans to continue to raise funds to ship 500 bikes a year to Lesotho. The bikes will go to disadvantaged kids, especially the 100,000 children in Lesotho orphaned by AIDS/HIV, he said. Some live in orphanages; others are taken in by relatives or neighbors.

"The main purpose that Jeff and I have is to give something of joy to an orphan," he said. "Receiving a bike is life-changing. It will probably be their one and only possession."

Gorman also met Tumisang Taabe, head of the Lesotho Cycling Association, who runs a Mikes Bikes Sister Shop to repair bikes. Taabe is on a mission to bring cycling to Lesotho as transportation, recreation and healthy competition, Gorman said.

"Tumi is a dynamo," he said. "He's a curious guy and energetic. He's a heck of a bike rider."

With the encouragement of one of Gorman's friends, even the king in this constitutional monarchy has hosted the biking association in his palace.

"We wanted to get a national conversation going. We did," Gorman said.

Reflecting on the trip, Gorman said past competitions have taught him that he can surprise himself when he sets a goal and works toward it.

"I consider myself just someone who had an idea and followed up on it," he said. "Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things."

Gorman said he has received contributions of $25 and up; $40 pays to send and repair one bike. To donate or learn more about Bikes for Lesotho, visit facebook.com/BikesForLesotho. To donate used bikes to Working Bikes, see workingbikes.org.

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