Arizona cyclists rally for Giffords' recovery

By Susan Montoya Bryan

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 19 2011 2:20 a.m. MST

Raoul Erickson poses for a photograph at his desk as an image of him and longtime friend Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is displayed on the monitors in his office in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011. Erickson and Giffords went on a 10-mile bike ride through Tucson the night before the congresswoman and 18 others were shot during a political event on Jan. 8.

Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — On the night before she was shot through the head during a political event outside a supermarket, Gabby Giffords went on a 10-mile ride on one of her favorite trails.

It didn't matter if it was pitch black or cold — or if she were juggling calls she had missed while on the plane from Washington, D.C., or preparing to meet with constituents the next day. She would do all that, and then go for that bike ride.

"She has a passion for her bicycle, I'll tell you that," said Raoul Erickson, a longtime friend of the Democratic three-term congresswoman who had gone riding with her that night.

The next day, on Jan. 8, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured in a massacre that killed six people and wounded 12 others outside a Safeway in Tucson. The 22-year-old gunman had been bent on targeting her since meeting her at similar event in 2007.

The shooting rocked Tucson and the nation, resulting in an outpouring of support for Giffords and the other victims that has taken the form of thousands of candles, cards, balloons and bouquets across the southern Arizona desert city. But for one segment of the community, pedaling their bicycles in honor of the victims has been the start of their healing process.

Word that Giffords loved to ride her custom-made bike up and down Tucson's bike boulevards and trails spread like wildfire across cycling blogs and through Facebook and Twitter posts.

While many people had never met Giffords, much less went on a ride with her, she's considered part of a loose-knit group that ranges from die-hard racers clad in spandex to weekend warriors and commuters who push the pedals to get to work.

For the past two Tuesdays, cyclists have shown up en masse outside the hospital where she remained in serious condition, along with hundreds of other supporters.

The 2-mile vigil ride from the University of Arizona campus takes less than 15 minutes, but organizer Damion Alexander said there's a lot to think about in that short time.

"The word 'community' is what it's all about. We are a bike community," Alexander said. "This gives us an opportunity to share and do something positive. What happened was awful. It's so sad. And whenever something bad happens, you have an opportunity to be brought down by it or to look at how you can lift up the spirits and make it a better place to live."

Inside the hospital, Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, has been keeping his own vigil. He told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview that aired Tuesday night that he believed for about 20 minutes that his wife was dead after seeing a mistaken television news report.

"I just, you know, walked into the bathroom, and you know, broke down," he said. "To hear that she died is just, it's devastating for me."

Kelly said he later learned that she was alive when he called Giffords' mother, who was outside the operating room.

From Giffords' husband to the cyclists and the millions of people following her recovery, all are hopeful she will return to her office — and to her old life, including the bike trail.

Waiting at home for her is a custom bike she ordered built last year by Dave Bohm, the owner of Tucson-based Bohemian Bicycles.

He explained that it was more than the sum of its parts, with an Arizona flag emblazoned across the top tube and Giffords' name painted on the frame to look like rope. A slew of Arizona cattle brands covers the bike's steel tubes.

It fits her personality, Bohm said.

"We don't know what's going to happen, but I hope to hell she's on the bike soon enough," he said. "If I have to, I'll make her a set of training wheels. I'll do it. I'll do whatever she needs to get her back on it."

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