Shawn Morelli competes at the 2022 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
It’s the special moments of wonder, like seeing a child get on their new bike for the first time, that move U.S. Paralympic cyclist Shawn Morelli.
For the past few years, Morelli has made the time to be part of the Mark J. Reynolds Memorial Fund’s annual holiday-time bike giveaway.
The Fund holds three giveaways a year, primarily in California and the Kansas City area, helping socioeconomically disadvantaged children go home with brand new, premium-brand bikes. In 2022, 15 bikes were donated to children by the foundation.
For Morelli, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, witnessing pure joy from the kids and helping them learn about their bikes is profound.
“It’s about giving them something to change their world; help them find healthier lifestyles, have some freedom and do something that they may otherwise not had access to,” Morelli said. “My being there at the giveaway isn’t much, as all the credit for the hard work goes to the foundation and Brendan (Sheehan) for their hard work and generosity. I just show up and try to tell them a little about my life — how having a bike changed everything for me, and they should dream big too. They can do it too.
“Just to see the expressions on their faces when they get the bike … their parents are crying, and they’re stunned. Just overwhelmed and happy.”
The Reynolds Memorial Fund was started in the memory of avid cyclist Mark J. Reynolds. He died on Jan. 8, 2004, after being attacked by a cougar while riding his mountain bike in Orange County, California. Reynolds had started giving away bikes to disadvantaged kids nearly a decade before, and his family decided to carry on his legacy.
Sheehan, who also owns the Santa Fe Trails Bike and Coffee Shop in Leavenworth, Kansas, coordinates the bikes, including helping assemble and getting them to the kids. He said Morelli, who grew up in Pennsylvania but now lives in the area, has made an impact because she is a star that brings her enthusiasm for cycling to the group.
Morelli gives credit to Sheehan for helping her find her way back after being seriously injured by a 2007 roadside bomb in Iraq while serving in the U.S. Army. He encouraged her to try cycling as part of her recovery journey and provided his help and knowledge along the way.
Sheehan praises Morelli for inspiring others, including himself, to work hard and set big goals in life. The Reynolds Fund bike events bring them together to share their love of cycling.
They’re a great team, with Morelli helping get Sheehan some bikes through her connections at the top level of the sport. He handles the logistics.
The day of the event, which is usually held at a school gym, the pair and others size the bikes for the kids, show them how to ride and even get into a little coaching. The basics, like knowing how to turn or brake and balance, need to be demonstrated for the new cyclists.
It leads to some memorable moments, filled with laughter.
“We’re in the gym, running behind the kids to help them learn how to ride their first bike, it’s that special,” Sheehan said. “It’s a happy time to see Shawn interacting with those kids, knowing that they’re going to walk away with a special memory and a new bike. It’s also special for us too, because we are there to be a part of their lives in a small way.”
Sheehan’s bike shop also helps organize a six-week summer bike race series for kids, called “Late Night Under the Lights.” Morelli comes to that too, handling the award presentation.
“Nothing is better than when she comes and tells the kids, ‘This could be your future, you can dream about going to the Olympics too,’” Sheehan said. “Shawn is an incredible person. Her loyalty, commitment and personal dedication to cycling, and to our community, is huge.”
Morelli hopes to increase her involvement with events like this, because she sees the impact and need.
“It’s a big thing to have your own bike, because that would be something that these kids could not have right now,” she said. “When the parents ask us things like, ‘Do we get to keep this?’ or ‘Are you really sure this is OK?’ Nothing is sweeter than telling them that this beautiful bike is theirs to keep for the child.
“Use it, have fun, all that stuff that they were not thinking about. That is the power of what a bike and cycling can do.”
To learn more about the Mark J. Reynolds Memorial Fund, visit here.