Riding along the narrow twisty roads in the green hills surrounding Guatemala City, Paul and I were enjoying a sunny day. Headed East, we were basking in the sun and looking at the sleepy little towns we were passing by, when Paul suddenly said through our intercom: „there‘s something really odd about a motorcycle rider just in front of me!”.
Something indeed was odd: the rider had a crutch slung over his shoulder, managing the gears with a strange metal contraption in his hand. He had one leg missing. His passenger, a small boy wearing a battered red helmet, would sometimes help him change gears.
We waived to the strange duo as we passed by; the rider gave us thumbs up. As we maneuvered along the slowly moving traffic of a small town, the one-legged motorcyclist disappeared into the distance.
Soon enough, we caught up with him again: riding expertly, he weaved in and out of traffic and leaned confidently into curves. We knew we had to stop and talk to this mysterious bike virtuoso: who was he, what happened to his leg, and why was his passenger a little boy?
New Freedom on Two Wheels
Waving the rider down, we stopped on the side of the road. “Hi, I’m Robin!”, - the one-legged motorcyclist said, removing his helmet. Robin was twenty-five, and Angel, the little boy riding pillion, turned out to be his eight-year old son.
“When I was seventeen, I was walking home from work. I live in a poor neighborhood in Guatemala City and it’s not always the safest place… There was a shooting in the area I was crossing, and a stray bullet hit my leg. The doctors decided to amputate above the knee”, - Robin explained.
Before the accident, Robin was an avid cyclist, so losing the leg meant losing the freedom to travel. However, his boss convinced him to try a motorcycle instead, and gave him his old Suzuki GL 125cc. Robin came up with a small steel rod that he attached to the gear lever and shifted gears by hand. "I fell down a lot, at first", - Robin said, smiling. "But I felt that the motorcycle would change my life, so I kept trying".
As soon as he started to ride, motorcycling became a huge passion of his. A few years back, Robin even rode his little Suzuki 125 to Nicaragua and back.
“I also race. I’ve been placed in a few unofficial races in the small motorbike class here in Guatemala, but what I would really love to do is one day race in the Bridgestone Handy Race in Spain. It’s a race for disabled riders, just like me!”, - Robin explained.
Of course, nobody would let him compete: working as a motorcycle courier in Guatemala City and taking care of his boy, Angel, all on his own, Robin couldn’t afford racing leathers or boots, and the local race organizers wouldn’t let him enter the more professional races.
“But you never know! I never knew I could ride a motorcycle to Nicaragua and back with one leg. So why not racing in Spain, someday, somehow?”, - Robin said, laughing.
Riders for Riders
Thanking Robin and Angel for their time to stop and chat to us, we shook hands. Riding away, we just couldn’t stop talking about them: Robin’s raw passion for motorcycling and his never-ending optimism was overwhelming, especially against the odds he was facing – a single dad, living in the Guatemala City slums, earning a meagre $80 a month at best just to make ends meet, but dreaming of the Bridgestone race in Spain and giving motivational speeches to other disabled people in his spare time, Robin was an exceptional person. We knew then and there we’d try our best to help him: both Robin and Angel had no protective wear except for their tatty Chinese helmets, and we decided we could at least try and get them some gear.
Posting Robin’s story on social media, we immediately got dozens of offers to help. Klim Motorcycle kindly donated brand-new jacket and pants for Robin and two Klim helmets for him and Angel. A good friend and fellow adventurer, John Wood, and his son Ethan sent a whole riding kit for Angel, with the help of the Davis Servce Centre in Colorado: sturdy motocross boots, body armor and a modular helmet. With the money raised, we also both Angel some shoes, school supplies and a few toys.
But now we needed to get all this treasure to Robin in Guatemala City. Shipping was expensive and would take long, so we knew we needed to find another solution. As if by miracle, Gustavo Scherenberg, a Mexican adventure rider and editor of the ADV Motero Magazine, offered to drive to Texas, pick up the package, and deliver it to Robin and Angel personally. Gustavo drove for hundreds of miles, then hopped on a plane in Mexico and landed in Guatemala City – all of this just to meet Robin and Angel and bring them the surprise package. We’d met Gustavo months ago on a similar mission: back in February, he and his adventure motorcycle club were bringing pairs of shoes and toys to a Taharumaha girls’s school in Batopilas.
“I wanted to help Robin because I thought he was an exceptional person, and I wanted to be part of this story. Being able to help is a gift and being part of the motorcycling community enables us all to share it”, - Gustavo said later.
Spreading the message
Robin and Angel were surprised by Gustavo’s visit – but we decided we could do more. Robin was really struggling to make ends meet, but he still dedicated time and energy to learn to fix motorcycles. “I love everything about bikes. A bike gave me my legs back; I love riding them, I love fixing them, and I’m hoping to open a small motorcycle mechanics shop one day”, - Robin told me. The only problem was, Robin couldn’t afford any tools.
That’s where Justin Schuchat, an adventure rider of End of All Roads we’d briefly met in Antigua, Guatemala, came in. “My father used to fix cars and bikes, and he left a garage – full of tools that nobody uses anymore. I’m happy to donate those tools to Robin, because I know my father would have wanted them to be used”, - Justin said.
And the miracles just kept on happening: once Justin’s sister, Jenny, had picked out and packed a few chests full of tools, our friend and fellow rider JD Dyess drove to Texas to pick them up and deliver them to Louisiana, where the package was taken by Steve Osborn on his way to Guatemala.
Steve has been volunteering in a Guatemalan orphanage for years, and he told us he’d happily deliver the tools.
“Wow! I am so impressed with Robin!”, - Steve told us later. “I got the stuff to Robin today, and I am overfull with ways we could help this man - so humble, so clean and orderly...and so full of love for his son. But mainly, it’s the joy of life! You guys are connecting and empowering a nuclear reactor in the form of a one-legged hero”, - Steve wrote.
Once in a while, we still chat to Robin online. “I’m so grateful to the whole motorcycling community who made this happen”, - Robin says.
He and Angel still live in Guatemala City: Angel goes to school, while Robin works as a courier and fixes his little wood and tin house. Now, though, they ride safely, and Robin is already getting a few orders to fix motorcycles, cars and bicycles here and there. Justin’s father’s tools have become a lifeline for him.
If you’re planning to ride Guatemala, drop by and see Robin and Angel – they’ll love to hear from you!
Would you like to help Robin get through a mechanic’s school? Please drop us a line: email@example.com
Photos: Robin de Leon, Gustavo Scherenberg