COLUMBIA – A crowd of blue shirts and spandex pants filled Flatbranch Park where participants gathered to kick off Columbia's annual Bike, Walk & Wheel Week.
Although the crowd consisted of of eye-catching characters – a man "statue" painted head to toe in gold and a replica of movie-alien E.T. – one woman's inviting smile and accessories stood out from the rest.
Christy Welliver, 58, calls herself "an original PedNet member." She was active in the organization when it was founded and previously served as its vice president. Now, she is a board member for the organization.
Bike, Walk & Wheel Week is a PedNet program that celebrates alternative methods of transportation.
At Saturday's event, Welliver talked with other PedNet activists about the growth of the event since its first run in 2002. The first event had 750 participants, according to PedNet's website. This year, they anticipated nearly 6,000.
With a sense of pride and accomplishment, Welliver beamed as she spoke of the progress Columbia has made. "I love the fact that we've become such a bicycle-friendly community. People are biking not just for recreation, but as transportation," she said.
Though Welliver showed enthusiasm for biking in Columbia, she does not bike herself. She doesn't walk either. "I'm the third aspect, the wheels," she said.
Welliver was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985 and uses a wheelchair.
Though Welliver said she struggles, she credits her diagnosis for her active lifestyle.
"I consider myself very lucky and very blessed to get to see life from a different perspective than I used to. Its opened up all these portions of my life," she said.
She remembers when she first got involved in PedNet. She was wheeling on the Katy Trail when she met Chip Cooper, a PedNet board member. At the time, PedNet focused more on bicyclists and pedestrians.
"When he saw me, a light bulb went off in his head," Welliver said. "He talked to me about becoming the third aspect." Welliver has been involved in PedNet ever since and is an activist for people in wheelchairs.
Former Mayor Darwin Hindman, who helped create the event nine years ago, said a few words when he returned from the Young at Heart ride, a 13-mile round trip ride Saturday afternoon.
"This week is about getting people to get out during the week and have fun with self-propelled transportation," he said. The participants cheered and with personal pledges, vowed to meet Hindman's challenge and get active.
"I pledged 0.6 miles," Welliver said.