The Russells are a family on wheels.
Parents Noel and Kay take regular bicycling adventures with son Noel II, 10, and daughter Noelah, 12.
A recent bonus of the family fitness routine is the “I Bike Parks” program, which lets participants explore trails at Bluebell Beach, Flushing County, and Max Brandon Parks. The program is a partnership between bicycling guide Angela Stamps and Genesee County Parks with support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Recreation and Park Association Healthy Recreation Catalyst Award.
“It’s the nicest trail,” Kay says of the park at Bluebell Beach where Stamps coordinates I Bike Parks.
The program marks an expansion in Stamps’ growing portfolio of bicycling initiatives under her Kentakee Athletic & Social Clubs banner.
“This is what I’m able to do in my daily job – see sunsets and hang out with good people,” says Stamps.
All ages and all skill levels can participate in I Bike Parks, often traveling trails while wearing helmet cameras that capture the experience
Stamps’ leadership of Flint bike programs grew out of a personal setback after her car was repossessed while she lived in California in the 1990s.
“I said, ‘You know what? You didn’t come here with a car, and you’re not going to leave here with one when you die. Now what are you gonna do?’”
Soon Stamps started walking and taking the bus to her various appointments and rounds, which helped her lose weight. She was an active child who played kickball and soccer, even participating in the CANUSA youth games. But by the time she attended Flint Northwestern High, she had developed a habit of consuming large amounts of candy and was a size 16. She describes herself as “very overweight.”
The loss of her car sparked memories of an active lifestyle, and things were about to intensify. Stamps’ boyfriend at the time bought her a new bike and she started riding eight miles, roundtrip, to work every day. Meanwhile, she’d begun taking online courses so she could teach cosmetology at the community college level. In the process, Stamps gained more of a desire to share knowledge and inspire young people.
During a 20-year class reunion in Flint she encountered an old classmate, who introduced her to the person she calls her consultant, a man with a non-profit foundation background. Returning to California, she began drawing the blueprint for what would become her organization to serve struggling Michigan youth.
By the time she moved back to Flint, Stamps no longer missed having a car, biking about 18 miles a day, everywhere from the grocery store to the library. She’d transformed her body, developing so much muscle tone, including “six-pack” abdominals, she barely recognized herself.
“It tripped me out that riding a bike could produce these results,” Stamps remembers.
After more talking with her consultant, the plan to work with youth converged with her lifestyle. Using bikes as the hook, she started Berston Bicycle Club in 2012 after transforming the old Berston Field House men’s locker room into her headquarters. Young people ages 10 to 18 sign up for a nine-week course designed to make them “independent bike commuters,” who learn everything from diet to helmet safety and time management.
“The very first lesson is how many minutes there are in a day,” says Stamps. “I tell them, ‘Time doesn’t wait for you and neither does Miss Angela.’”
The Berston Bicycle Club helps supply used bikes to those who need them and provides new ones to youth who finish the program. On rainy days and at other times when students aren’t so pumped to ride, Stamps recalls the inspiration she summoned when she occasionally had flat tires and had to ask strangers for help.
“I tell them about Harriet Tubman, and how she had to lead people to freedom,” Stamps says. “A lot of times they kept going and they didn’t even have shoes.”
Biking has benefits beyond the physical, she says.
“You travel in real time. You get to re-think things.”
Stamps’ leadership has been valuable to Genesee County Parks, says Nancy Edwards, recreation programs and grants officer.
“First of all, let me just say I love her,” Edwards says. “She and I have this kind of master plan to increase biking opportunities, particularly for youth in Genesee County.”
“We’re getting great participation,” Edwards says. “She’s got consistent riders coming to each of those park sites.”
Stamps says bicycling also assisted her in personally “toughening up.”
“I didn’t wake up and say, ‘I’m gonna just ride a bike around.’ It was just circumstances that something happened, and that’s all I had,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m going to make this work, no matter what.’”
Photos by Paul Engstrom