Holding onto a tandem bike with one hand and grasping his wife’s hand in the other, Harly Forbes walked toward the downtown Vancouver office of the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes.
For nearly five months, he and his wife, Courtney, have been waiting to for this moment — the chance to return the generosity that the community previously showed them by donating their two-seater Peugeot bike.
When the couple went to their front porch one January morning and found that their bike — their main way of getting around — had been stolen, they said the feeling was devastating.
“It was heartbreaking to get something we love taken away,” Harly Forbes said. Because the couple is developmentally delayed, the tandem bike is how they maintain independence.
“Courtney gets really anxious riding by herself,” Harly said. So last winter, he traded in his own bike for a tandem so the two could travel together.
When Clark County residents read the news of the Forbes’ loss, they responded in a big way. Some people made offers to donate their own bikes, while others handed over money to go toward replacing what was taken.
But one offer stood out.
Richard and Jackie Riordan of Salmon Creek read of the couples’ misfortune and knew that the custom-made, $4,000 tandem bike sitting in their garage would be better given to the couple.
Just one day after the thankful Forbes’ accepted the gift, the thieves returned their bike and attached an apology note, signed “Guilty.”
Now with two bikes, Harly and Courtney made a decision: they would fix up their old bike and donate it to benefit those who are blind.
To help them achieve their good deed, Don Joling, a Vancouver man who followed the roller-coaster of a story, offered to fix up the bike. With help from area businesses, which provided donated services and reduced-price parts, Joling spruced up the bike.
“I didn’t recognize it when we got it back,” Harly Forbes said, pointing out the new spokes and tires, fresh paint and brand new bike seats.
Now when the couple thinks about their run-in with crime, they describe it differently: “It was a blessing,” Harly said.
“We’re really happy because we’re donating it,” Courtney said, beaming.
And Billy Henry, executive director for the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes, said this is the first bike donation that he’s received.
The nonprofit serves more than 1,000 people with visual impairment by helping them participate in sports including swimming, wrestling and track and field.
Of the activities the nonprofit offers, bike riding is the most requested activity.
“This will be huge for us. (Tandem bikes) are expensive,” he said. “I thought it was amazing that they thought of us.”
Henry said that the nonprofit has eight bikes, but when they organize a tandem bike outing, groups of up to 18 kids and adults join.
“This will be put to use right away,” Henry said.
Which is exactly what the Forbes were hoping to hear.
“(We) totally built this for them,” Harly Forbes said. “I want them to enjoy it just like we did when we first got it.”