Local News

June 21, 2014

Welcome back, Koz

Boys and Girls Clubs celebrate bicyclist’s return

Don’t ask Derek “Koz” Kozlowski to do any typing soon. Both of his hands are still numb, and he says his neck is still weak from Shermer’s syndrome, a condition in which the neck becomes too weak to hold up the head. And he’s still got plenty of scrapes, bruises and peeling skin.

But when he saw the faces of all the youngsters at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chattooga, Gordon, Murray and Whitfield Counties who came out to greet him in Dalton on Friday he said it was all worth it.

“Kids need a chance to be kids, and the Boy and Girls Club provides this opportunity,” he said. “These are great kids.”

Kozlowski got back to Dalton late Tuesday night after spending almost a week of nearly nonstop bicycling for the 3,000-mile Race Across America. His goal was to raise awareness of and money for the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Shane Adams was part of Kozlowski’s support crew.

“We rode behind him the entire race and really got to see the toll it took on him mentally and physically,” Adams said. “But from the conversations that he and I had, he really believes in what the Boys and Girls Club is doing and believes it is important for the future of our community.”

Robbie Slocumb, executive director of the local Boys and Girls Clubs, said officials still don’t have a final total on how much Kozlowski raised because money is still coming in, but he said he expects it will be between $30,000 and $50,000.

“This was a great opportunity to raise awareness of the Boys and Girls Club,” Slocumb said. “We are really just scratching the surface of the need here in the counties we serve. On a daily basis, this summer we are serving between 550 and 600 kids.”

Among its many programs, the organization offers biking lessons for kids and, in the last four years, has built a biking arena on 12 acres of land near its headquarters at 1013 Underwood St. The mountain bike trail offers various skill sections and skinnies (planks to bike over). Kozlowski can often be found there teaching kids both basic and more advanced skills.

“The kids really love him. The bike program is really popular, but there’s always an extra energy when he’s here,” said Jesus Rodriguez, 16, who has been a regular at the local club for five years.

Kozlowski said helping the children is a major reward.

“No matter how old you are, you can’t help but be a kid when you get on the bike,” he said. “But unfortunately, for many kids these days it’s pretty common that they’ll never own a bike, never get to ride a bike. The Boys and Girls Club offers these kids an opportunity they might not otherwise get.”

Boys and Girls Clubs board member David Renz calls Kozlowski a “hero.”

“He’s a hero to me for what he did and what he put himself through for these kids,” Renz said. “And he’s a hero to these kids because of that and because he really cares about them.”

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