Earlier this year, two-sport legend Bo Jackson hopped on two wheels to support a cause near and dear to his heart. Jackson organized "Bo Bikes Bama," a five-day bike ride across his home state of Alabama, cycling through areas ravaged by last year's deadly tornadoes.
"You know you cannot fight Mother Nature," Jackson said of the storms that took 348 lives last April. "You have to take what she throws at you and hope to come out on the other end unscathed. With me being a native of Alabama, I figured the least I could do was give back."
Jackson didn't want to limit the number of people who could participate in his fundraising efforts, so he eschewed the standard golf or softball outings for something almost anyone could do.
"You really don't have to be in shape to get on a bicycle and pedal," Jackson explained. "But I did start training last winter for this, riding a lot through the forest preserves, riding with [famed cycling coach] Robbie Ventura, hanging around guys who rode bikes for a living."
By the time April rolled around, Bo knew cycling.
He rode 300 miles from April 24-28 alongside famous friends such as Lance Armstrong, Picabo Street, Ken Griffey Jr. and Scottie Pippen. Supporters paid to join them on the ride or simply lined the streets to thank Jackson for bringing them hope and help.
While Jackson was inspiring the locals, he found inspiration, as well.
"The people who we met along the way inspired me," Jackson said. "The people who lost everything. The people starting over from scratch. And the person who inspired me the most was a gentleman from New Jersey. He and a buddy decided to get in a van and drive to Alabama for the ride. I think they rode four out of the five days. And this guy was a paraplegic. He only had use of his arms.
"His real name is Daniel or Dan, but we named him Jersey Dan. He had a lime green bicycle and nobody could catch him and Picabo Street on downhills. He was my most inspiring rider. He was doing it with his arms and everyone else was doing it with their legs."
The cause even managed to bring together sworn enemies.
"In the state of Alabama one side of the state is staunch Auburn fans and the other side of the state is crazed Crimson Tide fans," Jackson explained. "But those five days we had Crimson Tide fans riding next to Auburn fans, smiling and laughing and crying together. It wasn't about War Eagle, Roll Tide those five days."
"Bo Bikes Bama" has raised more than $600,000 for tornado victims so far, and Jackson isn't done yet.
Bo knows banking?
Now almost 50, Jackson lives a surprisingly "normal" life in the suburbs of Chicago. He and his wife of 25 years, Linda, have three children; two grown and one still in college. In addition to his many philanthropic pursuits, Jackson owns "Bo Jackson's Elite Sports," a domed sports complex in Lockport, Ill., and is director of the Burr Ridge Bank and Trust.
Thursday evening, Jackson will appear at a Trek bicycle store in the Chicago suburbs to talk to kids about bike safety and continue to raise money for "Bo Bikes Bama." He says he hopes to do an annual bike ride each year on the Saturday after the anniversary of the tornadoes.
"This isn't just five days; this is going to be an ongoing challenge not only for me but for the people out there affected by the storm," Jackson said. "My ultimate goal is to raise enough funds to build tornado shelters in these small towns."
This December, the documentary "You Don't Know Bo" will air as part of ESPN's "30 for 30 Volume 2" series of films. The film will look at Jackson's incredible feats on the diamond and the football field and the marketing campaign that made him one of the most famous athletes of his time.
"Whenever I do something like that I don't watch it," Jackson said of the film. "I don't watch myself, so I don't even know if it's come out or if it's played yet."
Jackson won't be watching, but the millions who witnessed his greatness on the field and the many who benefited from his hours on the bike will.