Los Altos teen Will Randleman recently biked 70 miles in 6 1/2 hours.
However, the Homestead High School senior is not an ordinary teenager and wasn’t riding an ordinary bike.
Randleman, who described himself as an “incomplete quadriplegic,” rode a recumbent bike – one he can ride while lying down – to raise money for the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP) at the nonprofit organization’s annual Revolution Ride and Festival Sept. 21 in Santa Rosa.
Randleman was paralyzed playing football in eighth grade when he tried to make a tackle but instead collided with another player, causing his C4 and C5 vertebrae to break.
“When I was first injured, the doctors didn’t know if I would be able to breathe on my own again, let alone walk,” he said. “The first four vertebrae are the most crucial to motion, so my injury was severe.”
His parents described their son in an email as “courageous, imperturbable and persistent,” and highlighted his sense of humor, which they said has helped him confront his disability.
In the three and a half years after the injury, Randleman’s parents noted that he “found out how much power was in him. He became extremely patient, persistent and dedicated to his recovery every single day but also toward life in general. He always tells us to never give up, to just keep trying. He matured really fast, realizing what was really important in life.”
The 17-year-old moved around using a wheelchair the first three years but has now graduated to a walker.
“I have reached a point in my recovery where it’s really about how much work I put in, so I have some control,” he said. “It sounds harsh to say, but in some cases there is really nothing you can do to recover. At first, it’s really up to the doctors and your body to do the work, and all you can do is hope. Now, I know that I will be able to live independently, which was a major concern when I was first injured, and I know that through physical therapy, I can improve my mobility.”
Randleman has been involved with BORP since he found out about the organization a few months after his injury.
He said that although at first even a quarter-mile ride left him exhausted, through practice he has built up a lot of endurance.
During the 2017 Revolution Ride and Festival, Randleman rode 20 miles. In 2018, he rode 54 miles, and this year he increased that number to 73.
“(In 2018) I was supposed to ride 50 miles, but I made a wrong turn,” he said with a chuckle.
This year, he was supposed to ride 70 miles but made a wrong turn again.
“I was so focused and determined that I forgot to turn,” he said jokingly.
His father, Randy, rode alongside him every time.
“It was great to experience that with him and to see the reactions of other people when they heard his story and saw what he could do,” Randy said. “Will was not only the youngest rider for that distance – he was the only handicapped rider doing the 73-mile ride.”
Randleman was the top fundraiser for the event all three years.
Over the span, he raised more than $50,000 for BORP.
New goals and challenges
Riding a recumbent bike means Randleman does not need to worry about balancing on two wheels, and he does not need to put his foot down when stopping to keep the bike upright. He explained that BORP has a garage with bikes that feature many types of modifications, including electric gear shifters and a boost for going uphill.
“BORP gives me something to look forward to, a new goal each year,” Randleman said. “It is an opportunity to get outside and be active, as well as to see people my age with the same injury. At the hospital, most of the other people I saw were significantly older, so I wasn’t able to connect with them in the same way.”
Despite his injury, Randleman has many of the same high schools experiences as his classmates. In his free time, he likes to draw, play Xbox and hang out with friends. This year, he was selected for Homestead’s homecoming court.
After graduating next spring, Randleman plans to take a gap year to focus on physical therapy. He continues to engage with BORP, working with some people from the program on a process for spreading adaptive sports to developing countries.
His parents noted that their son visits and talks with newly injured people, answering their questions and giving them hope.
“Will knows what it is like to go through that, to struggle with adversity and uncertainty and to suffer setbacks and to preserve dignity while being completely dependent on others,” Randy said. “(This experience) will serve him well for the rest of his long, independent life.”