Bikes for all

Special to the Record-Eagle/Melissa WestOwen Werner, 12, sits on his new bike at a fundraiser he hosted for New Lyfe Restorations, which repairs and modifies bikes for children from low income families and those with disabilities.

ELK RAPIDS — Owen Werner may have underdeveloped muscles and joints, but his big heart makes up for it.

The Elk Rapids 12-year-old recently hosted a Potatoes for Pedals event that raised $1,607 — with more donations coming in — for New Lyfe Restorations and another $456 for expansion of the TART trail from Traverse City to Elk Rapids.

The nonprofit New Lyfe bicycle ministry is run by Rob Burroughs, who adapts and repairs bicycles for low-income and disabled children.

Owen heard about New Lyfe while he and his family were looking for a recumbent-style bike he can ride.

But while Owen's focus was on fundraising, the bike was given to Owen at the event, thanks to Kris McLain of McLain Cycle & Fitness and one of her customers, Don Fedrigon, who owns RE/MAX of Elk Rapids, who bought the bike for him.

The bike is being adapted for Owen by Burroughs.

Owen's family had just moved to Elk Rapids and his mom, Aleasha Witt, began asking what everyone does for fun in the area. Riding bikes was the answer she kept getting.

The family started shopping for a bike to accommodate Owen, who has arthrogryposis, a rare condition in which his muscles and joints are underdeveloped.

"We went to every bike shop in town looking for a cool, spiffy bike that would need the least amount of modifications that he could ride," Witt said.

Through that process they heard about the New Lyfe organization and found out Burroughs could do the modifications on a bike for Owen.

A few months later Owen and his family were having dinner and seemingly out of the blue, Owen asked where Burroughs got the money to fix bikes and found out New Lyfe runs solely on donations, Witt said.

"So he said, 'I want to help raise money for him," Witt said.

"I know how hard it can be sometimes to find people like Rob (Burroughs)," Owen said. "If people didn't donate he wouldn't be able to continue making bikes. He sells some of his own stuff sometimes to get money."

Owen, a sixth-grader, has no problem getting up in front of his middle school classmates to do the Floss dance in a mock America's Got Talent show, but he hates the recognition he gets for helping people.

"While this is amazing and heart-tugging, this is him," Witt said. "He doesn't want the atta-boys. He just wants to do things for people."

Owen, who has five sisters and brothers in his blended family, has to learn different ways to do everyday things because of his condition. But he is determined and remarkable, never letting anything hold him back, Witt said.

He inspires people, Witt said, and she wants him to see the impact he can have on people.

One of those people is Katy Rogers of Mesick, a freshman at Northwestern Michigan College who was looking for an honors project when she contacted Kristy McDonald, who teaches at NMC.

McDonald also lives down the street from Owen and with a little bit of serendipity — and 150 pounds of leftover spuds — the Potatoes for Pedals event came together. The potatoes were leftover from Thanksgiving meals donated to area needy families by students in Rogers' communications class.

Rogers also put out some feelers and was instrumental in finding a donor for Owen's bike.

"Owen's an insanely active little boy, considering his condition, and his biggest dream was to ride a bike," Rogers said.

McLain said her company gets a lot of requests every year for donations and this one just struck her.

"It's funny how sometimes things just connect with you sometimes," McLain said.