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Neben brings Christmas joy to at-risk kids

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Neben is using the off-season to get some chance to encourage youngsters to jump on the bike.

Neben is using the off-season to get some chance to encourage youngsters to jump on the bike. (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Neben in the process of a bike build with some of the crew.

Neben in the process of a bike build with some of the crew. (Image credit: Daniel Simms)

Former time trial world champion Amber Neben and a crew of volunteers from her Dare To Be Project brought the spirit of Christmas to 70 disadvantaged children in Southern California this week.

Neben's non-profit teamed up with Specialized and the Illumination Foundation, which helps to break the cycle of homelessness in Southern California, to deliver bikes to at-risk children in Costa Mesa and Anaheim on Monday.

It's the third year Neben has held the annual bike giving, and each year it has grown. "The idea began with an Arthur Ashe quote: 'Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.'," Neben told Cyclingnews.

She began with a homeless shelter in her area where families in transition stay. Using her connections with Specialized, she arranged to provide a little holiday spirit and hopefully some motivation to persevere and succeed in life to the children who stay there.

"It's not a lot, but it's a little bit. Hopefully I can take the bike, I can take the message of embracing and overcoming adversity, and encourage them to work hard, to motivate, inspire them... to light that fire - to dare them to be what they want to be, and not to give up on life.

"To bring that message to them in a face to face way, with the bike ... it can be a tool to help them with fitness, with their weight, it might be a tool to get to school or work. It simply might be something that lets them know that they're valued. I think sometimes people need a positive push. If I can do that in a small way, it's exciting."

Some may doubt that a sports figure visiting some young children with gifts can create an impact, but Neben knows it can because when she was very young, she had a special visitor at a time when her life was in danger, and it stuck with her to this day.

When I was four years old I was in the hospital with spinal meningitis, and I was in a coma for four days. They told my parents I was going to die, and they said that if I didn't, I'd be brain damaged and deaf. I survived, but during that recovery time I was visited by a baseball player, Bobby Grich.

"I remember that, I remember the Snoopy watch he gave me. You think - it's a four year old, what are they going to remember? But they do.

"That bike for that four year old might be a memory that continues to motivate them or pushes them to keep fighting and trying to survive in life, and that's kind of a cool thing to think about."

The parents and some of the children who have remained in the shelter since last year expressed their gratitude for the bikes. "It was neat to see they remembered and it had a positive impact on them. Down the line, I hope to be able to do this with underserved kids in other homeless shelters, underserved schools and maybe hospitals."

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.