JOPLIN, Mo. —
Louis Niewald will travel 800 miles on a bicycle next month, pedaling from Joplin to New Orleans. He’ll have a lot to think about along the way.
Niewald was returning to Joplin on May 22, 2011, when sirens sounded and an EF-5 tornado began grinding its way across the city.
When he pulled his car over in Sarcoxie to seek shelter at a convenience store, he didn’t know that the twister was leveling his home on Adele Avenue, as well as the two Walgreens stores where he holds an administrative position.
“As soon as it finished, I jumped in my car and went to the store on Range Line,” he said. “There was a panic of about an hour, not knowing if employees were safe.”
They were, as were the employees at the store at 20th and Main streets, where Niewald next responded.
In the early hours of the morning, he finally made it to his own home near the Elks Lodge. There, Niewald, who is single, experienced the third shock of the night.
“I walked up to my home and realized it wasn’t standing,” he said.
In the weeks and months that followed, Niewald experienced firsthand the generosity of friends, neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers from distant cities who worked to put Joplin back together again, piece by piece.
“When I heard about a bike ride that would generate more awareness for the Joplin area, I was very interested in it,” Niewald said. “Both personally and to show appreciation for Walgreens, which rebuilt in 90 days and was the first major retailer to reopen.”
The 10-day ride he signed up for is called Jomonola, named for its starting point — Joplin, Mo. — and its ending point — New Orleans, La.
Niewald is one of 33 riders who have been training and fundraising for months and who will depart on June 20.
Despite being an avid cyclist, the 39-year-old Niewald said 10 days of straight riding is bound to result in saddle soreness.
“But I’ll have a lot of reflection,” he said. “With the media attention at each stop, our purpose will come up in every town. And rightfully so — that will keep the mission on the forefront of our minds.”
The ride is the result of a partnership among Rebuild Joplin, the St. Bernard Project of New Orleans, and nonprofit groups in New York and New Jersey all focused on bringing families back home after disasters.
Organizers hope to raise $150,000 for the charities and to help get at least one family back in a home from each of the three areas.