Sunnyside Bicycles: Best Buddies Challenge Weekend

Sep 23, 2017 | 2017 Articles, Community

by Vanessa McCracken

Did you feel a spark two weekends ago, a sudden surge in energy that came out of nowhere? The Best Buddies Central Valley team participated in the Best Buddies Challenge Weekend at Hearst Castle, September 8-9. The experience was positively electric, so electric that I bet everyone back home in the Valley could feel the buzz! Seventy riders represented our beautiful Central Valley at one of Best Buddies’ largest fundraising events, and we made our presence felt. In our first year of existence, the Central Valley team raised over $100,000 for the non-profit organization “dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” We won Rookie Team of the Year for having the largest civilian team ever formed. We won first place in the dance-off, and tied for Best Jersey Design Friday night. We rode strong on Saturday, and whooped, hollered, and took over the dance floor on Saturday night. The Best Buddies Central Valley team made its introduction to the Best Buddies community loud and proud!


Best Buddies Central Valley team riders with Best Buddies Ambassador Jack Mayor

I’ve talked with several people on the team since returning home, and all of us are still buzzing from this amazing event. I’m fortunate enough to have participated in some great occasions over the years (California Classic, Blossom Bike Ride, Tour de Fresno and Tour d’Organics are a few of my favorites), but the Best Buddies Challenge at Hearst Castle felt extra special from the second we got there. Every person from the Best Buddies organization that we encountered radiated so much positive energy and made us feel genuinely welcomed and part of the Best Buddies family. The event was extremely well organized, and the check-in progress was quick and painless. As the Best Buddies Central Valley riders started showing up one by one, the excitement grew, and we all had a sense we were in for an phenomenal weekend.

John riding with the legendary George Hincapie on the Best Buddies Century.

John riding with the legendary George Hincapie on the Best Buddies Century.

The Friday night welcome dinner was a great way to kick things off, and an indicator of how extraordinary the weekend was going to be. As Best Buddies founder, Anthony Shriver stood and welcomed everyone; he mentioned the Best Buddies Central Valley team’s accomplishments and announced we were the Rookie Team of the Year. The hundred or so of us in attendance went nuts, screaming and cheering. Then, during the annual jersey design contest, our models Aaron Ray and Bebe Perez completely won everyone’s hearts and we tied for the title. We got lots of fist bumps and high fives all weekend long for our jersey. We were definitely the People’s Choice! It was just remarkable to have the whole team cheering together and sharing our pride for the Central Valley with the rest of the participants, who came from all over the country to participate in the weekend.


Best Buddies Central Valley team members checking in Friday night!

The actual ride on Saturday was everything you would expect it to be. The century and metric century riders were treated to beautiful coastal views as well as challenging climbs and scenic roads through Central Coast farmland. Fifteen- and 30-mile riders got to ride along the coast and enjoy the cool coastal weather along with the epic views. Support was unparalleled, and riders were treated to hot showers, massages, lunch, and a margarita bar after crossing the finish line. Once again, the fun part was hanging out with the team and knowing we were a part of something special together.


Century riders heading down Highway 1

Around 4 p.m., we all got shuttled up to the Hearst Ranch for dinner and another special evening. I must mention that there were four different buffet bars for everyone to choose from; after all, riders who have ridden 100 miles might want salmon, and barbecue, and chicken, and tacos, right? I know it’s not about the food, but that’s just an example of how Best Buddies spoils its riders. (There were two massive open bars, too.) The evening really came alive when Anthony Shriver called up Best Buddies Ambassador Jack Mayor, a high school senior from Illinois, to speak. This extraordinary young man stood in front over a thousand people and confidently delivered one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard. (You can watch Jack share his “Jack and Josie” speech at the Best Buddies Leadership Conference here. It’s a must-see.) There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. It was a powerful reminder of exactly why we all spent the year fundraising, training, and spreading awareness for this important program. After all the speeches and performances were done, the party kicked into high gear as Soulville California Band absolutely brought the house down. From the very first song all the way to the end, the dance floor was shoulder-to-shoulder and Team Best Buddies Central Valley was up front and center the whole way through! It was the perfect end to a perfect event.

Reflecting on the weekend, though, it’s clear that what made it so special isn’t the WHAT. Sure, it was awesome to be welcomed by friendly faces and get five-star treatment from start to finish. Yes, the beautiful coastal weather and views made the ride extra lovely. But what truly set this event apart, though, is the WHY, and how connected we all were to that WHY. It was the people, the Best Buddies Ambassadors, the speeches, the singers, the mission. It was amazing to look around at dinner Saturday night and see people from vastly different backgrounds (there were Shrivers and Schwarzeneggers and Hearsts walking around with McCrackens), all united for one cause, a cause that is ultimately one rooted in spreading human kindness, empathy and compassion. It was Team Best Buddies Central Valley, a grassroots team that stayed intently focused on its mission to: “Bring friendship, leadership and jobs for all to our Valley” all season long. It was seeing Soulville bring all the Buddies up on stage to sing and dance with them. There was a genuine joy that radiated throughout this event from start to finish, and I think every single one of us in attendance was moved and inspired to do more.


BBCV riders celebrating a great ride!

Best Buddies opened its Central Valley office in December 2016, and has exploded in growth since then. There are now Friendship programs in 13 middle and high schools here in the Valley, the Jobs program is being launched in 2018, and several area students attended the Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana this July. Seeing the profound effect Best Buddies has had on students like Jack, I would love to see Best Buddies on every middle and high school campus in the Central Valley. Think of the impact teaching this kind of connection and compassion at that age can have in our community. It inspires me just thinking of it! I am genuinely grateful to be part of the Best Buddies movement in the Central Valley.

If you would like to join the movement, there are several ways for you to get involved. Join the club if it’s on your campus. Ask your teacher or principal to have a chapter started at your school if there isn’t one already. Join Best Buddies Central Valley for their Friendship Walk next March. Come out and support the Best Buddies at their first ArtHop on November 2. Buy a Best Buddies Central Valley cycling jersey (proceeds go to BBCV.) Or, my favorite, commit to joining us for the incredible, powerful, memorable, ridiculously FUN Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge in 2018! There is a distance for every ability, and even a 5-k walk/run if you don’t want to ride. Sign up for the BBCV team and get special discounts at Sunnyside Bicycles as our way to say thank you. Click here to register and search Central Valley in the team section to join BBCV. This year, we had monthly team dinners that always centered around a powerful Mission Moment, and weekly rides that helped us prepare for the 100-mile ride. We plan to do the same for 2018. For questions on the ride, feel free to contact me (vanessa@sunnysidebicycles[dot]com) or stop by Sunnyside Bicycles. If you have questions about Best Buddies specifically, please contact Ileana Perez with the Best Buddies Central Valley office at ileanaperez@bestbuddies[dot]org.

Sunnyside Bicycles
6105 E. Kings Canyon Rd.
Fresno, CA
(559) 255-7433 (RIDE)

Watch for Sunnyside Bicycles column every month here at KRL! And learn more on their website.

Vanessa McCracken co-owns Sunnyside Bicycles with her husband, John McCracken. She is a graduate of Barnett’s Bicycle Institute and is a BBI-certified bicycle repair technician, as well as a League of American Bicyclists-certiifed League Cycling Instructor. She loves bikes!

1 Comment

  1. Great write-up about an awesome event. Having experienced it personally, I agree with every word.


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