By Aubrey Smith Feb. 16, 2012
Bikes of every size, shape and color sit inside a tiny warehouse in Glen Ellyn, Ill. They wait to be sold, shipped and used as transportation. Some will travel as far as North Africa. Others will fund national and global projects. But neither would be possible without the faith and determination of one woman: Alice Teisan.
Teisan is the founder of His Wheels International, a faith-based, not-for-profit organization that provides bicycles and tricycles to individuals affiliated across the globe with the aim of helping to spread the Gospel. The bikes are even used by some Christian missionaries to travel between in remote villages.
The organization was birthed out of her passion for cycling and will to help others.
Since its inception in May 2005, His Wheels International has provided bicycles and tricycles to individuals affiliated with over 85 countries, Teisan said, adding that its purpose is to mobilize God’s work worldwide. But as one donor puts it, His Wheels is equally a spiritual journey for Teisan.
“His Wheels isn’t about bikes or trikes or even necessarily about the people in need of bikes and trikes. I believe it’s about one woman’s journey with God and to God, and about all the people who are drawn into that same journey through her leadership,” said Jason Floyd, a patron from Houston, Texas who heard Teisan’s personal story over the radio and became involved.
Her peers have only kind things to say about her.
“Alice is friendly and down to earth. She’s a role model for living day by day,” said Tony Smith, 48, a volunteer at His Wheels.
Teisan’s passion for bicycling began when she was a child growing up in Detroit.
“By the age of 30, I had biked on four continents and through 30 states across the United States twice in high school,“ says Teisan, 49, who now lives in Wheaton, Ill.
In July 1992, Teisan says she came down suddenly with what would later be diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome just 4 days short of beginning a cross-country bike trip.
“All of my self made pillars crumbled. I could no longer work. I could no longer do anything sport wise,” Teisan said.
Her life after diagnosis wasn’t exactly a coast downhill. In fact, Teisan was forced to stop practicing her diploma in nursing, bachelor’s degree in physical education and she quit working at Rush Hospital in Chicago.
“So for 11 years, from 1992-2003, my life was just basically trying to exist. I missed full seasons because of my health, because I couldn’t get outside,” said Teisan.
Eleven years after her diagnosis, in what she refers to as one of the lowest points in her life, Teisan was investigated by a disability insurance company who deemed her unqualified for coverage, forcing her to live off of $450 a month. Weeks later, in what she now sees as a twist of fate, Teisan met John and Carolyn Lutembeka, a couple who served as Tanzanian missionaries and who ultimately would help change her life.
“I felt the Lord say, ‘Have them over.’ and I thought, ‘God, I don’t have anything to offer this couple, I mean why would you ask me in the height of this mess, in the height of a nightmare,’” said Teisan.
As the weeks passed, Teisan said her urge to call the Tanzanian missionaries grew until she finally asked them over for dinner, just days before they were set to leave the United States.
According to Teisan, the couple told her of a need for transportation among missionaries in Africa, since distances between each village require a six-hour walk. She said God challenged her to give three times more than what she was making to them, reassuring her that He would provide for her.
HWI has since pedaled along at a steady pace, in sync with Teisan’s health. She has learned to accept everyday hurdles and is happy with the life she says God has given her.
“No doubt the happiest I seem to see Alice is when she sees a video of someone on the other side of the world who’s life has been changed by the ability to get up off the ground out of the dirt, and get around on a bike,” said Kevin Nikolich, HWI trike “designer” and engineer.
Teisan says God has blessed her with the ability to combine her passion with goodwill every day.
“The one thing chronic fatigue could never steal from me is my dreams,” she said. “My goal was to give away 100 bikes in my lifetime.”
And she has exceeded, leaving that goal behind in a trail of dust.
Biography on Author: Aubrey Smith, a journalism student at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL, did this profile story as part of a class assignment.