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Christine Tinberg on bicycle - Pepperdine Magazine

Blind Ambition

Christine Tinberg (’89, MS ’00) combines passions for athletics and ministry to help the blind experience the excitement of bicycling.

On the long drive from California to Arkansas to begin physician assistant school in 2010, Christine Tinberg unexpectedly had a change of heart.

“I literally heard a voice that said, ‘Christine, create a website that matches blind cyclists with sighted bicyclists,’” recalls Tinberg, a lifelong bicycle enthusiast. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea.’”

She called the school, told them she wasn’t coming, redirected her car, and began planning the website. Forgoing physician assistant school was a difficult decision, but Tinberg felt excitement about her new path. A physical education teacher at Los Angeles City College since 2002, Tinberg had experience with visually impaired students in her classes and had long wondered how she could assist them.

“You hit periods where you think, ’What am I doing with my life?’” she says. “I was searching for purpose. ”

Blind Ambition - Pepperdine MagazineThis new purpose allowed Tinberg to combine her bicycling, service, and health and wellness passions and form the Los Angeles-based nonprofit U.S. Blind Tandem Cycling Connection and its website, BicyclingBlind.org, to help the blind and visually impaired experience the thrill of bicycling.

The website helps match blind and sighted cyclists for tandem bicycling. Visitors create an online profile to be matched to a rider in their geographic area. BicyclingBlind.org offers resources for cycling clubs, riding opportunities, and tandem riding tutorials involving safety, technique, and etiquette issues such as what to say and how to behave around a visually impaired person.

Tandem technique involves a captain—the sighted person—as the lead rider in the front seat. The stoker—the blind person—sits in the back seat, helping to power the bike through pedaling. Volunteer captains are matched with stokers based on height, weight, and experience.

Tinberg runs the endeavor, which includes a Los Angeles-area bicycling club. She has received e-mails from users worldwide who are utilizing the site.

“Christine funded the website herself,” remarks James Hickey, a captain instrumental in helping Tinberg start the group. “Her desire to share her love of cycling and reach out to people is so giving.”

The local club meets monthly in Southern California communities of Agoura Hills or Westlake for a 20-to-25-mile ride, during which captains describe the scenery and alert stokers to road conditions. Volunteer training and tandem bikes are provided. Ride signups for stokers are on a first-come, first-served basis, because there are not enough captain volunteers to meet the demand, something Tinberg hopes will change.

“I have a waiting list of the blind who want to ride, but we’re limited by the number of volunteer captains we have,” Tinberg said.

Two stokers who ride regularly with the group are Shahrzad Sa and Alexis Chen, both from Simi Valley. Sa loves the speed and is grateful for the opportunity to ride. Chen finds the experience fun and good exercise. Both participants were initially nervous.

“There was excitement and anxiety that first ride, handing over steering control to another person,” Chen says.

Chen enjoys the camaraderie and friendships he’s made. Last year he attended Tinberg’s wedding to Thomas Warne, who volunteers as a captain for Chen.

Serving as a captain and leading the blind has been inspirational for Art Van Noppen, an avid Simi Valley cyclist and captain.

“To see people enjoying the experience gives you a sense of accomplishment, especially on the downhill when you hear them whooping,” Van Noppen comments.

Tinberg has had a lifelong love for bicycling that sprouted during her childhood in Kansas.

“As kids, we rode our bikes all over town. That was our transportation and it was such a feeling of freedom,” Tinberg says. “I also enjoy the speed and exhiliration when going downhill.”

She continued road and mountain riding throughout her Pepperdine years, first as a sports medicine undergraduate, then a ministry graduate student, and during her tenure as a visiting instructor from 1994 to 2002.

“To see Christine translate her passion into serving and helping people is exciting,” says Priscilla Gilliam MacRae, professor of sports medicine at Seaver College, with whom Tinberg maintains a close relationship.

Alone on a bike, Tinberg gets into a zone and cycles and turns automatically. Riding a tandem bike is quite different.

“On a tandem, my alertness is high. I’m always thinking, listening, and looking,” Tinberg says. “I’m doing something that I know so well, but I’m responsible for somebody else’s life and safety.”

Tinberg’s first experience with the visually impaired came through blind students she met as a kinesiology professor at Los Angeles City College.

“They amaze me with what they can do and the courage, guts, and ability to navigate,” Tinberg says. “It made me think,

‘Wow, they’re swimming, they’re weight training. I wonder about bicycling?’”

An answer came during the summer of 2008 at a movie screening about a blind mountain biker. There, Tinberg met Nancy Stevens, three-time world champion triathlete, Paralympic skier, and the first blind woman to scale the Grand Tetons. The two began chatting about tandem biking.

“Nancy said, ‘Let’s go tomorrow,’ and I said, ‘Are you out of your mind? I’ve never done anything like that,’” Tinberg recalls.

Tinberg enjoyed the ride so much that, at Stevens’ suggestion, she attended a weeklong training camp for blind athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“You’re surrounded by amazing athletes, you receive Olympic training, and there are inspiring people like veterans who lost their eyesight in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Tinberg says. “I wanted to pursue it more.”

Tinberg is grateful for the direction her life has taken and hopes to expand awareness of her website to create more captain/stoker partnerships worldwide.

“God has been so gracious to me to give me this sense of purpose, this passion,” Tinberg says. “It’s been a real gift.”