Last week, Special Publications Editor Mary Creel took part in a charity bike ride to help raise awareness and money for Alabamians still recovering after last April's violent tornadoes. Here, she shares her experience.

You’re probably wondering, “What brought these four world class athletes together?” A Heisman trophy winner, seven-time Tour de France champion, Olympic gold medalist downhill skier, and hall of fame baseball player. No, they’re not next season’s lineup for The Celebrity Apprentice (though I think they would make a fun team for Mr. Trump). Lance Armstrong, Picabo Street, and Ken Griffey, Jr. rode with Bo Jackson and a host of average citizens various legs of a five-day, 300-mile journey across areas of Alabama ravaged by tornadoes a year ago. Their presence helped increase awareness of the ride, with the goal of helping raise $1 million.

A two-sport star at Auburn University and professionally, Bo Jackson is still pretty well known and loved especially in Alabama, and it showed last week as he led Bo Bikes Bama to raise money for the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund for tornado relief.

A coworker, Karin Fecteau from Southern Living, and I joined the group on the third day of the ride. At times it was like being in a presidential motorcade, escorted by policemen on motorcycles, or riding in the Tour de France with helicopters flying overhead. As we rolled through small towns, people were on the side of the roads with posters and balloons yelling, “Go Bo!” Cars pulled over, and drivers waved and cheered.  It is the most memorable time I’ve ever spent on two wheels.

Bo talked to us about some of the highlights of the ride. One story that struck him in particular was a woman standing in her yard with a sign, “I am 85 years old and I survived the tornado.” He stopped the ride, got off his bike and walked over to her. She told him her house was totally devastated while she was thrown 100 yards. But she survived.  One of his intentions besides raising money was to meet and talk with the people who were directly affected by the tornados. He shared these stories with us throughout the day.

This tragedy hit home for many of our company’s employees’ family and friends. We are based in Birmingham, an hour drive from many of the hardest-hit areas. This feature in Southern Living, the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Bragg, shares how his neighborhood was destroyed, and how neighbors everywhere helped each other through the nightmare. It won national MIN Awards for both print and online editorial excellence. 

And while the five-day ride hasn't met Jackson’s stated goal of raising $1 million yet, donations have topped a half million. (If you would like to make a donation, you may do so at 

(Top photo courtesy of Kim Cross)