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By Tracy Seipel | mercurynews.com
SAN JOSE — It was a scene straight from Santa’s workshop on Saturday as hundreds of busy elves assembled 2,500 bikes that will be donated to underprivileged South Bay children during the holidays.
But for two volunteers battling cancer in the prime of their lives, helping out at the 11th annual TurningWheels for Kids event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center was a good way to take a break from their illnesses and think about someone else.
“I could be at home playing a video game, or whatever,” said Alex Matlosz-Cox, 19, who has terminal bone cancer. “But it doesn’t make as much of an impact. I’d rather do this.”
Kristyna Banglos, 14, left, and Kamryn Nicolas, 13, right, of Siclista Bike Shop, carry unassembled bikes to build during the Turningwheels for Kids
Kristyna Banglos, 14, left, and Kamryn Nicolas, 13, right, of Siclista Bike Shop, carry unassembled bikes to build during the Turningwheels for Kids bicycle building event at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )
The San Jose youth hadn’t heard about the event until it was too late to volunteer. But a last-minute call on Friday to Sue Runsvold, the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center nurse who started the nonprofit organization in 2004 to provide bicycles and helmets to low-income kids (particularly those who are overweight), was all it took.
“He wanted to be here today, and I was happy to say yes,” said Runsvold, 65, who spent the day biking around the cavernous South Hall, checking on everyone’s progress.
At the same time, another TurningWheels event was taking place in Livermore, where 750 bikes were built.
“A bike is the number one requested gift that our local social service workers tell us kids want,” said Runsvold, who with fellow nurse Nancy Huff and the group’s board of directors spend each year preparing for the day and gathering donations for the bikes.
“And if a kid gets a bike, they don’t think of riding it as exercise; they’re just going to play on their bike. So it’s a win-win!”
That made a lot of sense to Cox.
Dressed in jeans, a red and black “Game of Thrones” sweatshirt and a Santa’s cap, Cox was among a team of workers that included his mother, Bobbie. The group unboxed bikes and assembled them in the number 2 space at the far end the South Hall.
“Many people don’t have the benefits and luxuries and privileges that we do,” Cox said. “It just felt right to do this.”
Not 50 feet away, in the number 1 space, was 21-year-old Kyle Walden, who has leukemia.
For about 10 years, the San Jose man has worked at the event with his dad, Frank Walden, a supervisor at Fox Racing Shox, which had erected a tent inside the hall.
The Scotts Valley company develops high performance shock absorbers and racing products for bikes, motorcycles and off-road vehicles.
After being diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, Walden said he’d only missed the event when he had a relapse last year.
In June, he received a bone-marrow transplant. With his weakened immunity, Walden knew the prospect of being around so many people on Saturday might mean he’d have to stay home.
But he said a visit to his doctor Friday for a “tuneup” — including antibiotics and antibodies — was enough to get him the physician’s green light.
“They said I could go and run free for a day,” said a relieved Walden.
“It’s been a tough year, that’s for sure,” chimed in an emotional Frank Walden, who then hugged his son.
“And this is a great way to end” the year, Kyle Walden added.
Said Runsvold: “I am a believer in providence, and I don’t think it’s a mistake that Alex and Kyle are here today.”
Special Money Raffle – win cash for the holidays and help a child get a bike.
Don’t forget to buy your raffle tickets. Drawings on the day of the Bike Build. Buy for yourself. Ask friends and colleagues to give. Everyone gets multiple chances (11) to win $100 in gold and silver coins (even if you’re not present).
Buy your raffle tickets online. Not interested in the raffle? You can still donate to help a kid get a bike.
Earlier this year, Optum Pro Cycling teamed up with volunteers from healthcare company Optum, the San Francisco 49ers, and California-based non-profit Turning Wheels for Kids to build and distribute 50 bikes—with helmets and locks—to students of the 49ers Academy, which enrolls middle school students in unique educational programs. It was an interesting sight seeing 300-plus-pound lineman and 130-pound pro cyclists wrenching shoulder to shoulder on a Raleigh or Diamondback bike.