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Ready to hit the trails: Grant will allow purchase of 60 bicycles for Garfield Elementary students

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Garfield Elementary School third-grader Bella Adler smiles Tuesday afternoon while riding bicycle after a presentation at the school. The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund presented Crow Wing Energized with a $50,000 grant. The funds will be used to purchase a fleet of 60 bicycles. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video2 / 2

Garfield Elementary School students taking part in the fifth annual bicycle trip to Nisswa in May will get to break in some new bicycles on the ride.

In a presentation at the school Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund presented Crow Wing Energized with a $50,000 grant. Those funds will be used to purchase a fleet of 60 bicycles, which will help promote youth bicycle use and safety in Crow Wing County.

Tom Grausam, physical education teacher at Garfield, has been organizing the annual bicycle trip since its inception. Students will set off on the fifth annual trip the morning of May 17, riding 16.9 miles north on the Paul Bunyan State Trail to Nisswa. They'll then have a picnic lunch in Nisswa before being bused back to the school.

The goal of the bicycle trip is to show students how bicycling can be a fun, lifelong activity, Grausam said. Some students may be intimidated by the distance, he said, but so far, every student has completed the journey.

"The kids who have made it ... they're so confident, it builds their confidence," Grausam said. "Anyone here can ride 16.9 miles, it doesn't matter how fast you are, it doesn't matter how slow you are."

Brainerd City Council member Dave Badeaux represents Ward 3, which includes Garfield Elementary School. A northeast Brainerd native, Badeaux attended Garfield when he was younger and his son, in fourth grade, went on the bicycle trip last year.

"This is going to allow other schools to do that," Badeaux said. "It's going to allow other schools to take a similar approach to things."

Students get nervous about going on the bicycle trip because of the distance, Badeaux said. When they ride in a car on a drive to Nisswa, they get bored with how long it takes, he said.

"Now all of a sudden, they're on their own willpower to get there," Badeaux said. "And it's interesting to see the nervousness when they start, and then once they're done, that completion, that attitude change is really impressive."

A handful of the students present Tuesday didn't have bicycles, Badeaux said, which is unfortunate. This grant allows those students to practice their bicycle-riding skills, he said.

Adam Rees, Essentia Health Central Region president, said he was proudly wearing his Crow Wing Energized hat Tuesday. The bicycles purchased through the grant were bought locally, he said, and will be used to teach kids about the benefits of bicycle riding.

"I remember when I was their age and I got my first bike, how much fun that was," Rees said. "And the freedom that gives you kids."

About two-thirds of the adults in Crow Wing County are not getting enough daily exercise, Rees said. Lifestyle changes come from making positive choices, he said, and he implored the Garfield students to help their parents make healthy choices.

"In Crow Wing County, we want to make the healthy choice, the easy choice," Rees said.

Crow Wing Energized has previously given Garfield Elementary School three grants which have been used for healthy initiatives at the school, said Dave Baloga, physical education teacher. Through active recess, students burn more calories, which in turn helps students focus better in class, Baloga said. They also learn important life skills like teamwork, sharing and conflict resolution, he said.

The students got a chance to test out their new, bright green Trek bicycles Tuesday. At stationary bicycles, they learned about the gears and braking systems on the bicycles. Students took bicycles around a short course outside the school. They also learned about the rules of the road from Brainerd Police Department community service officer Troy Schreifels. Essentia Health donated bicycle helmets, which the students were properly fitted for.

Possibly the most popular attendee at the event Tuesday was Minnesota Vikings mascot Viktor, who received hearty cheers when he entered the gymnasium. He doled out high-fives to students and adults alike, as well as posed for photos throughout the event.

The grant is part of the fund's "52 Weeks of Giving." The charitable effort, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health's Statewide Health Improvement Program, will provide 52 grants over the next 52 weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII. The grants will fund community projects across the state, with the goal of improving the health and fitness of Minnesota kids, said Julia Davis, legacy and community partnerships manager.

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

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