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Bike Man

Keith Schoon remembers the joy -- and hard work -- of getting a bike.

“I grew up on a farm and our family could never afford new bikes, but that didn’t stop us,” says the 67-year-old. “We’d go to the landfill, pick up three or four junkers and make one good bike. I’ve worked on bikes my whole life.”

Decades later, when a disability caused by nerve damage forced early retirement, Keith resurrected those skills from long ago. His mission? Help kids in need. In 2008, he set up “Keith’s Bike Repair” in the garage at his small West Fargo home. The broken bikes waiting for life spilled into his yard, too.

“That first summer I fixed up and sold 45 bikes -- all at a very affordable price,” says Keith. “My goal was to make just enough so I’d never have to charge kids to fix their bikes -- chains, tires, tubes, that kind of thing. Not once has a kid failed to say thank you.”

Keith didn’t stop at repairs. He gave away bikes, too. Last year 165 went to locals, 25 to the American Legion and 280 all the way to Kenya.

So what happened when this beloved bike man faced two serious obstacles? Either could have derailed his calling.

Worn parts

“My left knee was totally eaten up by arthritis -- bone on bone,” says Keith. “I knew I needed a knee replacement.” Surgery was scheduled for December 2010. But two months earlier, Keith’s knee locked up while working in his shop. He fell across bikes and broke his right hip. Successful hip surgery followed, but delayed knee surgery for six months.

In spring 2011, Keith again checked in with Dr. Matthew Friederichs, Sanford orthopedic surgeon. When could he have knee surgery?

“When I found out a spring surgery would lay me up for the summer, I said no way, that’s when I work on bikes,” says Keith. “Dr. Friederichs was worried the pain would get to be too much. I said if the Lord wants me fixing bikes, he’ll give me the strength and comfort to get through the summer.

Keith survived the summer, but in September a new pain emerged: City officials had received complaints that his yard had become an eyesore. Compliance would require a high fence to hide the hundreds of bikes and parts from public view.

Fenced in

“The fence would have cost thousands. I couldn’t afford one section of fence let alone 120 feet of it. And without that fence, I’d have to close down,” says Keith. “My wife was the one who said you can’t close down. There are too many people -- especially kids -- counting on you to be here. Bonnie said let’s put it in God’s hands.”

Local media shared Keith’s plight. The story captured hearts -- and opened pocketbooks. Thanks to the generosity of many, Keith got the fence he needed.

“Bonnie and I could not believe the support,” he says. “We never imagined the little bit I do on bikes could have an impact on the whole community.”

Surgical expertise and more

His best-ever bike season behind him, Keith underwent knee-replacement surgery on November 22 at Sanford South University in Fargo.

“I’m doing great now. I have a whole new knee in there -- all titanium and plastic. It’s pretty amazing,” he says pointing to his left knee. “Dr. Friederichs is as good at knees as I am at bikes, probably better.”

But he knows it wasn’t Dr. Friederichs alone. Successful knee surgery requires a team of people. Keith appreciated every aspect including:

    * Nurses who helped him through his hospital stay. “Those first days were tough, but the nurses were wonderful,” he says. “They did everything they could to make it easier.”
    * Physical therapists who worked with him in the hospital and several weeks after on an outpatient basis. “All along they knew how anxious I was to get back to my shop working on bikes,” he says. “I recently got the okay for two hours a day. I can’t wait to get going!”
    * Follow-up with Dr. Friederichs. “The range of motion in my new knee has really impressed him,” says Keith.

Bikes for 2012

Already Keith has received calls from organizations in need of bikes. One came from a YWCA staff member who helps mothers and children transition from shelter housing to their own apartment. She called about a family with four children -- and all four needed bikes.

“What about the mom?” Keith asked her. “Does the mom ride bike?” The caller said yes, but she didn’t have one.

“She does now,” Keith told her. “I’ll have five ready by spring.”

Replacing a knee …. repairing a bike … changing a life.

Thanks to you, Keith Schoon.

Posted Date: February 2012