On January 17, 2013, Bill Keith, an avid World Bicycle Relief supporter and SRAM employee, lost his life. After riding his bike home to his wife Pam, Bill suffered heart failure, passing away later that night. Bill and Pam’s story of respect, gratitude, love and freedom has left a life-changing legacy in the lives of their friends, family – and 110 families in Zambia.
The video below was taken on May 22, 2013, at Chabona Basic School in Chibombo, Zambia.
Read Pam’s story of her journey to Africa:
Bill’s 20+ years in the bike industry and his eagerness to coach and motivate people all sprung from his love for cycling. Not to mention, bikes are what brought us together in 1981. I was a swimmer and runner, and vowed to coach him as a swap for some cycling practice. Since then, we’ve never looked back. We always lived life to the fullest and never said, let’s wait to do that in retirement.
After his death, Bill’s colleagues asked how they could help honor his life. Bill had already influenced so many people, and I was confident that his spirit would go on to create a lasting legacy.
I knew how much World Bicycle Relief meant to Bill, so we set up a memorial page. Donations started rolling in. Originally we set a goal to raise $5,000. We quickly surpassed that and changed our goal to $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 … by March, we had raised almost $40,000.
As spring approached, my sister, Kim, and I made plans to join World Bicycle Relief on their next Africa Rides trip. We wanted to see the impact that these bicycles would create. Kim and I lost our mother to cancer just one week before Bill died. This trip was our way to honor them both. With the blessings of friends and family (including Kim’s kids, who organized fundraisers at their school for WBR), on May 14 we boarded a plane for Africa.
Our African journey started at the World Bicycle Relief assembly facility in Lusaka, Zambia. I have been in the bicycle industry for 20 years and, let me tell you, these guys have it down. Man, can they lace wheels! After meeting the assemblers, we each had a chance to build our own bike that we would be riding in the field. We also took time to sticker the bikes that would be distributed to students in Bill’s name later that week. The stickers read, Mahalo BK, honoring Bill’s Hawaiian heritage. The word mahalo means “respect and gratitude.”
One of our first activities in Zambia was with the women of the Chikumboso community project. Chikumboso provides a positive environment for women who have lost their husbands and are considered outcasts. In their presence, I felt very connected, and for the first time truly recognized and named myself as a widow. Without their husbands, these women rely on one another as a source of strength. It was a very humbling experience.
The next few days we spent exploring the impact that bicycles create in rural Africa and learning about life in Zambia. The emphasis on community continued to resonate with me. We were able to visit a milk collection center and witness how valuable bikes can be in transporting goods and creating economic opportunities. We met a health care worker named Danny who showed us the importance of his bike in caring for his patients. During this visit, we were asked if we had a spirit of community where we came from. A bit embarrassed we answered, nothing like this.
When it came time to distribute Bill’s bikes at the school, I felt like I was in a movie. Under blue skies and puffy clouds, through swaying grasslands, we spent hours driving down gravel and dirt roads to the remote village of Chibombo. We traveled the final 2.5 miles by bike over a bumpy, single-track dirt road until soon our ears were filled with the sound of drumming and singing. When we arrived at the source of this jubilee, lined up before us were the 110 bikes with Mahalo BK stickers. Over 600 villagers were gathered at the school to welcome us. This welcome ceremony was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I was struck with emotions as I felt the presence of our family and friends who were there in spirit. The women of the community surrounded us and our two groups became one–singing and dancing together.
As the crowd calmed, the school principal introduced a group of students, who sang and performed a moving drama about how they would honor their bikes and contracts. They sang, “This is the greatest day we’ve ever had, we hope to have another day like this, but this is the greatest day!”
When it was my turn to share, I told the group about Bill and why these bicycles were a tribute to his life. I told them about his love for bikes and how much they were a part of our life together. I told them that people around the world had come together to provide these bikes and that this was the ultimate tribute that I could imagine for him. After I spoke, women gathered around me and shared in my sorrow. It was deeply touching as suddenly the bikes meant even more to them because of my story.
When we handed over the bikes, I could see the pride and joy on each student’s face. Even the children who didn’t receive a bike that day were happy. They knew they’d now be able to get a ride to school.
After the distribution, we rode with a student named Rolita to her home as she pedaled her new wheels. Rolita’s grandfather welcomed us in disbelief that his family now had access to this life-changing tool. We spent the next few hours learning Rolita’s routine – her chores, fetching water and helping with family farming – all of which she does before leaving for school each day.
After our time with Rolita, we rode back to the school. I kept seeing the faces of the students on their new bikes. They were happy and smiling. I knew that look. As a child, I rode my bike everywhere – across town, through forests … it was freedom in the purest form. These girl students were experiencing that freedom for the first time. I could see it on their faces and hear it in their voices – freedom, gratitude, joy. The wind was in their hair, and they were free.
A few weeks after my trip to Africa, I found myself reflecting. It brought me joy knowing that so many people came together to provide something so meaningful to those students and their communities. Not just the bikes, but also hope for the students, their families, and communities. It’s become important for me to share this story, not only for those who have made contributions in Bill’s honor but also for the people who dedicate their lives-and love-sharing the Power of Bicycles.
When we first arrived in Lusaka, I kept noticing the world mahala around town, strangely similar to the Hawaiian word mahalo on Bill’s bikes, I learned that mahala means “free” and “love” in Zambia.
I know that Bill would want us to keep moving forward, keep smiling and keep riding. It is my hope that those reading this will continue on the journey with Bill and me – this journey of freedom, love, respect, and gratitude. Mahalo.