Ricky Chang’s passion was always riding his BMX bike, as the “Live Fast, Ride Faster” tattoo inside his left bicep will attest. That’s why he keeps a bike in his bedroom. Someday, he’d like to ride it again. It’s there to serve as motivation. On July 19, 2008, Ricky was paralyzed from the neck down during a bike stunt gone awry.
It’s been difficult for VCU senior cross country and track runner Tyler Simmons to watch Chang, his longtime friend, struggle through years of rehabilitation. Simmons, who used to ride mountain bikes with Chang, also knows how badly he’d like to take that bike in his room for a ride. That’s one of the reasons why Simmons, with the help of a couple of friends, is planning a ride in Ricky’s honor.
This isn’t going to be just any ride. Simmons is teaming with Andrew Kenny and Kevin White to ride cross country to raise funds for Chang. “Bike-America: Ricky Rides Again” is scheduled to begin June 1, 2012 at Chang’s house in Manassas, Va. The 3,745-mile trek will cut through America’s Heartland and into the Rocky Mountains before coming to a close on July 12 in San Francisco.
Simmons says the trio hopes to raise $20,000, 10 percent of which will fund the ride. The rest, approximately $18,000, will help pay for Chang’s treatment, as well as ease the family’s medical bills.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Simmons said. “If I was in the same situation, he’d do the same.”
Simmons and Chang met in high school and forged close a bond through skateboarding, biking, poker nights and laughter.
On the day of Chang’s accident, he and Simmons had plans for a mountain bike ride. But Simmons says he had chores to finish, so he called Ricky and cancelled. They would get together with friends and go see “The Dark Knight” at the movies later that night instead.
Later, a mutual friend called Simmons. Ricky was in the hospital. Chang had taken his BMX bike out for a ride and was attempting to grind a handrail when he fell forward over his handlebars onto his head. The impact fractured his c3 vertebrae and paralyzed him from his c5 vertebrae, roughly the base of the neck, down.
The accident was a shock to Chang’s friends and family. He’d always been a cheerful, active person, but now he was fighting for his life on a hospital bed.
“Ricky was definitely one of the funniest guys in the class,” Simmons said. “Definitely the class clown. It’s terrible to see such a serious thing happen to a non-serious guy.”
He spent weeks in a rehabilitation facility in Atlanta before returning home. Simmons says Chang’s spine was pinched, not severed, in the accident, leaving hope of some degree of recovery. How much is anybody’s guess. In the three years since the accident, Chang has regained the use of his arms, but not his hands. He has been able to move from an electronic wheelchair to an assisted manual wheelchair. He hopes to attend college to study film.
The road ahead is uncertain. The cost of Chang’s care is substantial. His electric wheelchair alone cost nearly $20,000, not to mention the rehabilitation, medication or the customized van the family uses to transport Ricky.
That’s where Simmons, Kenny and White come in. Simmons said he started thinking about organizing a bike ride for Ricky three years ago, but wanted to wait until his cross country eligibility ran out. He didn’t want it to interfere with training. This summer, he hopes to make the trip a reality. While $20,000 is the initial goal, Simmons says they’ll raise as much money for Ricky as possible.
Chang has been overwhelmed by his friends’ support.
“I was pretty surprised,” Chang said. “It’s a pretty awesome act of kindness. I definitely found out that I have really awesome friends and that they’re all-around good people.”
Simmons’ group started a website (rickyridesagain.webs.com) to promote and raise funds for the ride. They’re also searching for corporate sponsors. According to Simmons, Bunnyhop Bike Shop in Richmond has agreed to provide bikes and equipment at cost.
The website includes schedule of the ride, by day and mileage, as well as a map of the where they’ll be traveling. Some days the group will ride as much as 150 miles. On days where they face steep inclines, they’ll taper down to 60-70. There are just three scheduled rest days during the six-week journey. Each night, Simmons, Kenny and White will camp out under the stars at the best available location.
All three men are experienced riders. Simmons has logged 100-mile rides before, but nothing quite like this. On most days, they expect to be on the road anywhere between seven and 11 hours a day. The group is planning an intense training schedule, as well as a number of test runs where they’ll bike to Charlottesville, Va., camp out for the night, and then ride back in the morning.
It’s a daunting schedule, and Simmons knows he’ll have to maneuver his responsibilities as a VCU track runner and student-athlete around the fundraiser, but it’s worth it.
“If you’ve met Ricky and you know Ricky, it’s kind of understandable,” Simmons says. “I don’t think there’s anybody that knows him that dislikes him. He’s easy to be around, easy to be friends with and those are the type of people you just want to help out. His family is like my second family. If we can help him out it’s all worth the while.”