Here’s one silver lining to the pandemic: with gyms, museums, and stores closed, many of us were forced to spend more time outside. I was able to ditch my car and more safely pedal the 3.5 miles on pedestrian-friendly streets to work at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, where I work practicing hospital medicine.
One morning last spring, I was reflecting on how good the ride outside made me feel when I walked in to see a 68-year-old patient with several significant behavioral and medical problems.
Before I could say a thing, he jumped in as if in mid-conversation. “Dr. Hass, I can’t thank you enough. I swear that prescription you gave me mid-COVID lockdown saved my life!” CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Healing and hope on the trail
This article was first published in our December 2020 e-newsletter.
Spending time outdoors and in nature has important physical and mental health benefits, but for avid-outdoor enthusiast and West Michigan-area native, John Zevalkink, the outdoors was not only healing, but life changing.
John had long enjoyed outdoor activities like biking, boating, swimming, and skiing but all that changed when he suffered a stroke on October 4, 2016 and it left him with paralysis on his left side.
A key turning point for his recovery was his introduction to recumbent trikes by his recreational therapist, Rachel Stacey. It didn’t take long before John was blasting around the hallways of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.
John eventually purchased his own TerraTrike and began riding at his condo and eventually on a bike path nearby. He built up slowly – riding a mile, then five miles, and then farther. He now averages 15 miles a day though he rides up to 40 miles.
Around this time, John and his wife Kim were looking for a winter home in Tucson, Arizona and learned about The Loop, a world-renowned network of 130 miles of shared-use paths in greater Tucson. The example of The Loop was inspiring and allowed for endless exploration and long Trike rides.
Following the sale of his family business (for which he served as President), John researched opportunities for group rides and came across Spokes Fighting Strokes, founded by another stroke survivor Dan Zimmerman. Dan found that triking was the perfect form of mobility for stroke victims – the freedom of biking without the challenges of balancing – and travels the country promoting trikes to other survivors. John connected with Dan in Tucson and then joined a local branch of Spokes Fighting Strokes, Tucson Spokes. The group acts as a support group, according to John “there is no room for self-pity, because everyone is in the same boat,” and is also an outlet for customizing trikes, making them user friendly for people with paralysis issues.
“I am excited about bringing the bike path culture of Tucson to Grand Haven.”
Given his experiences, John was thrilled to learn about an effort in his hometown to create a trail system along the Grand River that was almost as large in scope as The Loop. The Zevalkinks first learned about Ottawa County Parks’ Grand River Greenway project from their friends Tom and Barb Jackoboice (Tom is also an avid biker and is a member of the Greenway Capital Campaign Committee).
As part of the project, Ottawa County Parks & Recreation is planning to complete construction of the Idema Explorers Trail – a 37-mile long multi-use pathway that will connect Grand Haven to the Grand Rapids through Greenway parks on the south side of the river.
When John received a letter requesting a donation for the trail, he was happy to help – “I am excited about bringing the bike path culture of Tucson to Grand Haven.”
“It is a way for handicapped individuals to enjoy the outdoors, especially with recumbent bikes,” he said. He now hopes to coordinate with Dan to potentially start an Ottawa County Spokes Fighting Strokes that could be hitting the pavement on the Idema Explorers Trail in the near future.
Looking for gift ideas this holiday season?
The Ottawa County Parks Foundation is happy to help you out. Make a donation to the Foundation in someone’s honor, and the honoree will receive a thank letter from the Foundation letting the recipient know that you made a generous donation in their honor.
Featured Park: Crockery Creek Natural Area
11071 Wren Drive
The 331-acre natural area includes frontage on both the Grand River and Crockery Creek. About two miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails meander along the creek, mature wooded ridges, floodplain forest, open hardwoods, wet meadows and buttonbush swamps. These diverse communities provide habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna including bald eagles, sandhill cranes, red-headed woodpeckers and river otters. In addition to resident wildlife, the area provides staging areas for many migratory birds. The existing barn is from a Centennial Farm and currently closed to the public.