RAGBRAI paves road to adulthood for 6-year rider
DeAndre Parson started biking to work in a chef coat, riding a Giant road bike, one month before RAGBRAI.
The 18-year-old bought the new bike after pulling double shifts at a concession stand when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines in March.
Then he graduated from high school. Then he got the chef coat with a promotion to the catering unit at Hy-Vee Hall last month.
The string of milestones gave him plenty to celebrate Saturday as he completed his sixth trek across Iowa on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It was a week of reflection on coming of age during his final year pedaling as a Dream Team youth.
DeAndre started riding with the youth-development team at the age of 13. And it’s hard to imagine transitioning into adulthood without it, he said.
“All my life and all my labor is in this bike,” he said Tuesday morning while powering up an incline outside Creston.
“I love it with all my heart.”
Parson, who lives near Evelyn Davis Park on Des Moines’ north side, is the first in his immediate family to graduate from high school.
To top that off, he was just accepted into Des Moines Area Community College’s culinary arts program for the fall — a step toward his dream of owning a food truck.
His mom, Heather Parson, a concessions manager at Wells Fargo Arena, says “Andre” wanted to be a chef since he was 5. And he now holds the tools and drive to make that reality.
“He managed to finish school, switch jobs, get a new bike and open a bank account, all on his own,” Heather said, nodding to the Dream Team as a hand of guidance and opportunity.
“They’ve done so much for him.”
On the road, cyclists and teammates know DeAndre as the “hill king,” a title that’s well earned.
Standing up on his pedals, his 130-pound frame typically leaves his adult mentors in the dust.
“His first year, we were rotating every 20 minutes,” said 10-year Dream Team mentor Brian Horsfall.
The Dream Team program formed 20 years ago to focus on at-risk youth and teens who can’t afford RAGBRAI otherwise. The primary sponsors are the Des Moines YMCA, Bike World, and RAGBRAI, which is part of Register Media, which publishes The Des Moines Register.
First-year riders get their own hybrid bike after completing RAGBRAI. DeAndre rode his to school and work for a few years until it was stolen.
Then he upgraded to a well-earned $700 road bike, bought after working 82 hours in two weeks while continuing his full-time studies in high school: “I got a $798 check and I bought it with that,” DeAndre said.
This year 24 youth participated on the ride with the Dream Team. They started training weekly in the spring, with long-distance rides and a couple of overnight biking and camping trips.
It’s a surprise when mentors refer to a younger DeAndre as shy and quiet.
This year he can’t pass a teammate without a shout of encouragement: “Go team!”
He hams it up with fellow riders, such as Dustin Elliott, who is more boisterous and outspoken. Elliott’s personal goal (with a self-deprecating humor) for the week was to get a girl’s number.
“Guys, come on! We’re burning daylight. We got to go find more girls,” Elliott shouted among the crowd at the Farm Boys breakfast burrito tent.
DeAndre has also built friendships with multiple adult riders from out of state, whom he sees each year and they snap selfies together.
“He’s become that leader role to the younger riders on the team,” Dream Team mentor Brian O’Leary said.
The leadership team is already badgering DeAndre to return as a mentor the moment he turns 21 (the minimum age for mentors).
He says he’s considering it:
“We’re like a family out here.”