Pedaling perseverance

After teacher’s death, community rallies to continue his legacy of teaching through bicycling

Jim Retzer leads a group of “Retzer’s Sevvies” (aka his seventh-grade students at Paradise Adventist Academy).

Jim Retzer leads a group of “Retzer’s Sevvies” (aka his seventh-grade students at Paradise Adventist Academy).

Photo courtesy of Travis Retzer

Chico Velo Cycling has hosted the Chico Wildflower Century since 1981. It includes a 100-, 65- and 12-mile races. It will be held this year on Sunday, April 27. For more information, log onto

A year ago, when he was 12 years old, Carson Cummings completed the Wildflower 65, more than half the full Wildflower Century race hosted by Chico Velo Cycling. It was a major feat for the young rider, and one he’d been looking forward to accomplishing since he saw his older sister and brother complete the hundred-miler.

“This year, most of us are going for the 100,” Carson said of his seventh-grade class at Paradise Adventist Academy. They’re doing it in honor of their teacher, Jim Retzer, who died in October of a heart attack. But they’re also doing it for themselves.

“Everyone will keep him in mind as we go through the ride, but we’ll try not to be sad,” Carson said. “It’s cool we got our custom-made memorial jerseys, so everyone will recognize us. I’m excited I get to do it with all my friends.”

Carson is the youngest of three, and his mom, Kandi Cummings, has seen the impact Retzer’s class—and completing the Wildflower Century in particular—have had on her kids. “My middle son, Kevin, said, ‘I felt so good about myself. I’ve never done anything like that that made me feel so much satisfaction.’ To be encouraged by this man, it really was a very big deal.”

Retzer was a bicyclist himself and an educator for 40 years. For the past decade, he worked with his seventh-grade students and encouraged them to challenge themselves to the Wildflower Century. He took them to spin classes at Beyond Fitness, they went on training rides around Paradise and to Table Mountain, and he taught them the value of nutrition as well as physical fitness along the way. More than that, though, Retzer taught self-discipline and perseverance, qualities that can’t always be learned in a classroom.

Last year, Retzer taught a combination sixth- and seventh-grade class. Carson was in the sixth grade, and he and several of his classmates took on a preliminary challenge leading up to the seventh-grade rite of passage.

“A lot of people probably didn’t think they could do very much, but they did a lot,” Carson said. “He’d always tell us, ‘Persevere.’ That was one of his words. We learned to do that through the Wildflower.”

Retzer began bicycling in 2004, and he got his whole family in on it, recalled his son, Travis Retzer, who now lives in the Bay Area. That first year, Travis and his brother, their mother and father all rode in the Wildflower Century. His mom still rides recreationally and the brothers ride competitively.

Carson Cummings sports his memorial jersey, which he and his classmates will wear during this year’s Wildflower 100.

Photo courtesy of Kandi Cummings

Jim Retzer shared his love of two wheels with countless students over the years. “He started with a motto of ‘Fit 4 Life,’” Travis said. “Then he began introducing that motto, and bicycling, to students at a school that didn’t have a lot of individual sports at the time. It was a way to offer a form of fitness for kids that was more individual—not a team sport.”

Travis wrote to Chico Velo on his father’s students’ behalf, and was able to get them a partial break in entry fees for the ride. He also helped design memorial jerseys, both for the students and for his family, which will also ride in this year’s race.

Retzer instilled a love of bicycling in many around him, and he also attracted fellow bicycling enthusiasts as friends and riding companions. His death sparked a desire in those friends and family members to carry on his legacy by continuing the program he started. Among those involved are Kandi Cummings, who took on organizational responsibilities; personal friend Laura Van Dervoort, who has taught spin classes for the kids; and Barry DeWitt, father of another Retzer “sevvie” who led many of the training rides this semester.

“We just love what he taught the kids, the exercise and perseverance, and just to enjoy life,” Van Dervoort said. “He was such a great role model. He really touched so many people.”

Van Dervoort met Retzer several years ago and they bonded over a love of cycling. As a member of the Chico Velo board and a spin instructor at several local health clubs, she found it especially rewarding to help continue his legacy.

“They go through a 12-week training plan. I work with them on spinning, to get their cardio up, and then they do training rides—they climb Honey Run and Table Mountain, to get prepared,” she said. “So many people have really stepped up to the plate. They want to show Mr. Retzer that they know he’s in heaven and how well they can do. It’s been a great thing to be a part of, because I was a friend of his.”

DeWitt shared a similar story. His son, who is in the same class as Carson, rode the full 100 miles of the Wildflower last year, as a sixth-grader. He’ll do it again this year, but DeWitt laments the loss of Retzer as a teacher and role model.

“I was thrilled to think of my son having him for a teacher. My son and another boy did the century last year. Jim and I had become friends through that,” DeWitt said. “Seeing what it did for my son—it taught him perseverance, and the value of hard work and how it pays off. You cannot do that in a classroom.”

DeWitt has led many of the training rides and is encouraged by the fact that all but one of the students in Retzer’s seventh-grade class are up to the century challenge. (The one who opted out suffers from asthma, he said.)

“He left a legacy, not only with bike riding but life lessons for the kids in realizing that when you stick with something and persevere, you can accomplish just about anything you want to.”