Stephen Swift has had more than a lifetime’s share of misfortune.
The man from Newport, Oregon has lost his father and sister to cancer. In 2002, Swift himself lost a finger to carcinoma, a form of cancer. In 2011, Swift lost his wife in a car accident that left his daughter Savannah Swift in a coma for three months.
And in 2012, Swift was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It was at this time that his daughter suggested he take a bike ride—which is exactly what he did.
“It was all her idea,” said Swift. “My Savannah fought constantly for her life after the accident. Through her fight and her strength, I became determined and knew that I could do it.”
For the past 32 months, Swift has pedaled thousands of miles across the nation with only one mission: to encourage others battling cancer to get out and live life to the fullest.
His ride, however, came to a screeching halt on Friday at Cycle Masters bike shop in Turlock where he went to inquire about bike gears.
While talking to employee Katie Colesberry about his trip and his mission, a man approached Swift’s bike outside of the shop. Colesberry alerted Swift, who began to walk out of the store, but not before the man hopped on the bike and rode off.
Swift reports chasing after the man until he lost him at the Bank of America down the street. He then called 9-1-1 and reported the incident.
“I was lost, just totally lost,” recalled Swift. “I was just feet away from the guy.”
That night, Swift walked around Turlock in hopes of spotting his bike again. He even received a car ride from a man who drove around with him for 30 minutes looking for the thief.
When his search did not turn up results, he took the advice of the people he met and spent the night at Emanuel Medical Center.
“They let me stay and sleep in the lobby, but I had to been seen too,” Swift reported as he referred to his hospital bracelet. “I was having pain, and I didn’t know if it was because of stress or because of my cancer, but I was having some ugly pain.”
Without a bike and any belongings, Swift walked to the Turlock Seventh-day Adventist Church on Saturday, coinciding with the same day that Pastor Antonio Cano was preparing for his last day with the church.
Just as Cano was finishing his prayer before the Saturday morning service, Swift knocked on the door—a coincidence the pastor took as a sign.
“Despite the fact that it was my last day, I didn’t want the attention to be on me. I wanted to make the day about God,” reported Cano. “As his story unraveled, Stephen became the answer to my prayer because he provided an opportunity for God to be honored and praised.”
Cano invited Swift to the pulpit, where the bike rider relayed his story leading up to the robbery to the congregation. Cano described Swift and his story as a “breath of fresh air” and donated a book to Swift that was filled with motivational notes and messages from community members.
“I think I touched the pastor somehow and he touched me in a very big way too,” said Swift. “I guess we both needed something and it just clicked.”
It became evident that Cano was not alone in this response, as the congregation rallied around Swift to get him riding again.
First things first, he needed a bike.
Swift reports that he received two bicycles from members of the church. Only needing one to continue his travels, Swift decided to return one bike to the church.
Soon it seemed like the entire town heard about Swift’s story and many offered to help as well.
Turlock Firefighters Local #2434 donated a sleeping bag, bike rack, bike lock, bike pump, water bottle, two bike lights and a one night stay at a motel in town. Wal-Mart donated a tent and saddle bags for his new bike. The First Baptist Church donated a backpack. Staples printed 50 free copies of Swift’s story so he can hand them out to people he meets on his journey.
Bank of America is also working to get video footage of the theft incident that left Swift without a bike, since the thief rode right by their surveillance cameras in the bank’s parking lot. Swift hopes this footage will help police find the man responsible and reunite him with his belongings.
“I’m going on my ride again thanks to a lot of love and care from people,” said Swift. “I didn’t expect that.”
Despite the incident in Turlock that left him without a bike and his belongings, Swift is still leaving with fond feelings of the town and a smile, hoping that he gave others a reason to smile too.
“It’s not the people of Turlock, it’s just one person in Turlock,” emphasized Swift about his bad experience.
Swift was planning to leave Tuesday morning to continue his journey back home to Oregon. He still has a pair of cat earrings he purchased for his daughter in Nevada, a gift he cannot wait to give her upon his return.