The image of Santa brings joy all around the world – reminding us about the magic of giving this time of year. This month, we’d like to introduce you to a unique Santa in our community who rides dressed up as Mr. Claus for a great cause. The spirit of the holidays comes to life with our December 2022 Rider of the Month, Larry Wills.
Larry is a resident of Salem, Virginia, where he’s been in the insurance business for over 30 years. His ElliptiGO story began as many do, with an injury that stopped him from doing the activities he enjoyed. Larry had a passion for obstacle course racing including Spartan events, but sustained a knee injury. Suddenly, the wall climbs and burpees turned into traditional bike rides.
“I just couldn’t get a good workout in without riding 20 or 30 miles!” Larry told us. He attended Roanoke GO Fest, a local event with music, fitness, camping, and other outdoor activities. That’s where he met fellow Salem resident Lewis “Lefty” Leftwich, a well-known member of our ElliptiGO community. Larry had seen Lefty out riding around town on his unique bike. Lefty helped him get a test ride during the festival and Larry bought his first ElliptiGO bike the very next day!
Larry has been an avid rider ever since! He’s logged nearly 13,000 lifetime miles. Over the last three years, Larry has made those miles even more meaningful during the holiday season.
In 2020, Larry and Lefty went out for a ride dressed as Santa. The goal was simply to spread some festive cheer and put smiles on children’s faces. During their ride, they ran into a pair of US Marines who were collecting donations for Toys for Tots. This program spearheaded by the United States Marine Corps started 75 years ago. Their mission is to bring holiday joy to children in need by gifting them with new, unwrapped toys. Last year alone, the program provided 19 million toys to 7.3 million children!
The Marines shared with Larry and Lefty that giving was down due to the Pandemic, but the need for toys was up 50%! Larry felt compelled to help out.
“I told him I would try to raise $100 by the end of the week. We ended up raising $1100 and that’s how the Naughty Santa Claus fundraiser got started!”
To raise awareness and money for the cause, Larry rides in his Santa outfit, covers his bike in decorations and lights, stops for photos and waves to passersby. Over the last three years, Larry has raised over $50,000 for Toys for Tots. This year’s fundraising finished up last week and his total for 2022 was $26,000!
Although giving back to the community puts Larry on the “Nice” list, the “Naughty” element of the ride is a nod to Lefty’s Santa hat that bears the word…as well as to a special person in Larry’s life.
Larry told us, “I dedicate the Naughty Santa Clause fundraiser to honor my brother, who passed away from a stroke. The last picture I have of my brother is of him wearing a ‘naughty’ hat and holding a lump of coal.” Larry shared that his brother was a fun-loving man who really enjoyed the holidays and making them special for children. Another special connection honored during the ride is his former coach John Hinkle who was a Marine Vietnam veteran.
During the rest of the year, Larry is just as passionate about getting out there on his ElliptiGO bike. He’s an active member of the Global ElliptiGO Riders Club, participating in group rides and in the annual GOGO Challenge. He’s also a part of the customer-run Facebook group and can be found at major riding events like the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. He won the Tour De Donut ElliptiGO division this year, enjoying 11 donuts during the ride to take the top spot!
When asked about our community, Larry said, “What I love is that everyone is a free spirit, and we always have a good time when we get together!”
As Larry looks ahead, he hopes to continue the naughty Santa Claus fundraising in 2023 and is looking forward to recovering from his recent knee replacement. Larry was able to prepare for his surgery by riding his ElliptiGO bike and purchased one of our Fluid 365 stationary trainers to use post-op.
Larry told us, “My doctor saw my bikes and some of the videos I posted from my rides. He told me, ‘That’s the perfect type of ride for your rehab – that’s a great machine and I’m gonna start recommending it!’”
Larry, thank you for making ElliptiGO a part of your mission to spread joy during the holiday season. You have reminded us what this special time is all about: giving! We know you’ll make a great recovery from your knee replacement and are so glad you can return to riding very soon.
Also, many thanks to Katie Blau for nominating Larry and letting us know about his story. You can contact ElliptiGO with nominations to Rider of the Month or share your own story. It may just be the next feature!