By (Terrin Waack)

At home with his wife in Chicago, Bo Jackson couldn’t take his eyes off the television in front of him as the news showed what was unraveling in the South on April 27, 2011. The former Auburn Tiger once saw Tuscaloosa simply as an old rival’s stomping grounds, but seeing a massive E4 tornado barreling through the town changed his perspective.

There was nothing but shock running through Jackson’s veins.

“I was 800 miles away,” he said, “but my heart was in Alabama.”

Right away, Jackson knew he wanted to do something – anything – to give back to the state he still considered home; it had lost so much. After checking in with friends and family in Alabama, he started brainstorming ideas.

Soon enough, Jackson came up with an idea and mentioned it to his wife. He wanted to set up a bike ride to raise money.

“She looked at me like I was crazy,” Jackson said. “Not everybody can play golf or dress up for a fancy fundraiser, but everybody can ride a bike.”

A year later, Jackson introduced Bo Bikes Bama to the world, a bike ride set to raise funds for the rebuilding process and the safety of Alabama. On his pink Trek bicycle, he printed the 252 names of those who lost their lives in the series of tornadoes that ran through Alabama.

The first ride was 300 miles, spanning the 2011 tornado’s path. It started in Henager, Alabama, on April 24, 2012 and ended in Tuscaloosa on April 28, 2012 – five days of biking.

As soon as that first ride ended, Jackson told his business manager to start planning for the next year. Now, Bo Bikes Bama is an annual event. Instead of a five-day ride, it is a one-day ride to welcome more participants.

“To this day, we have people of all walks of life who ride – from kids, to seasoned cyclists all the way to sports legends,” Jackson said. “We all struggle through those hills together.”

Apart from covering Auburn or Alabama sporting events, ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore had no personal ties to the state of Alabama prior to the tornado. Afterwards, he was the executive producer and creator of the 30-for-30 documentary: Roll Tide, War Eagle. Because of the time he dedicated toward the documentary, Tessitore built relationships with the people he met to a point where he feels very much at home when within the state’s borders.

Tessitore said the documentary became a very popular film on ESPN and received a lot of attention, but something was still missing.

“There was always something inside me that felt I owed something to the state of Alabama,” he said.

Therefore, when Tessitore heard about Bo Bikes Bama, he told Jackson that he wanted to help out in any way he could – promoting it, documenting it or simply being a part of it. Whatever it was, Tessitore wanted to do it.

In the end, Tessitore rode a portion of the first ride across the state in 2012. At the same time, he had a film crew documenting Jackson and the rest of Bo Bikes Bama. Tessitore and his crew turned it into a half-an-hour Outside the Lines feature on SportsCenter.

The feature received attention, but seeing Jackson interact in person was something else. His passion and dedication were evident as he stopped whenever people would come out of their homes and businesses as he rode through each town.

“How the emotion there was a year later of a grandparent, a parent or a sibling finding the name of their loved one who lost their life painted on Bo Jackson’s bike, and how Bo Jackson would cry with them, would pray with them, would console them,” Tessitore said. “It would play out day after day, hour after hour throughout the whole state.”

Although he didn’t complete the entire five-day ride, Tessitore said what he did do was grueling and taxing. However, he didn’t stop until he actually had to for the documentary.

“There was always the thought of here’s Bo, with his bad hip, pushing himself on a bike across the state, and you’re seeing loved ones who had lost folks, that you’re going to do it, you’re going to find a way, and it was very supportive,” Tessitore said. “It was high energy. It was emotional. It was not about the ride. It was about the reason for the ride.”

Jackson was 49 years old when he created Bo Bikes Bama, and he had suffered a hip injury when he was 29 years old during a football game. He played four years in the NFL, retiring after his 1987 season, and played eights years in the MLB, retiring after his 1994 season. Jackson was 32 years old when he made the decision to hang up his jerseys.

Also, the 1985 Heisman winner was a former Auburn University football, baseball and track-and-field star, but Jackson didn’t care that Tuscaloosa is home to the Tigers’ main rival: The University of Alabama. There was no hesitation when creating Bo Bikes Bama.

“More than 60 tornadoes tore through our state on April 27,” he said. “They didn’t care if you say ‘Roll Tide’ or ‘War Eagle.’”

There have been many former Auburn football players who have joined Jackson during select rides: Al Del Greco, Ben Taburello, Bob Harris, Dave Jordan, Pat Arrington, Randy Campbell, Tommy Carroll and Yann Cowart. Former University of Alabama football player De Meco Ryans represented the Crimson Tide during the 2012 ride.

Auburn’s football coach Gus Malzahn and Auburn’s Athletic Director Jay Jacobs have always participated in Bo Bikes Bama.

“We have guys riding next to each other in rival jerseys, but there’s no smack talk on the road,” Jackson said. “When we ride, we ride as one.”

Bo Bikes Bama has also featured other famous athletes, including former …read more

Source:: The Crimson White Sports