INDIANAPOLIS -- Several years ago, before actual wheels started turning, the wheels in Tom Hanley's head began to spin as he worked to navigate life's trail.
Hanley, the founder of Nine13sports, says the organization was the result of "a lot of different life events in my early 20s."
"I was an elite-level cyclist, which gave me a chance to travel all over the world racing," Hanley said. "But all of a sudden I was in a commercial vehicle accident. I walked away with two broken vertebrae and a brain injury and my best friend had been killed. I'd been on the track to go to law school, but realized that wasn't really the calling I felt. I wanted to do something with kids and bikes and that was really the early process of what Nine13 would turn into."
Hanley's non-profit now works with 7,500 students in schools across Central Indiana. That number is up from 1,000 students when he started five years ago.
Nine13sports allows kids to race not just each other, but also themselves during the school day or separate events. Coached on by Hanley and his crew, their progress tracked on a big screen, it's much more than just a physical challenge.
"The bicycle is the ultimate equalizer," Hanley said. "It allows us to take students of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and create a relatively level playing field. So what that means is for us, the student who might not be the most athletically gifted on the football field or on the basketball court might be at home on our bikes and connect with them. It's not about who's fastest or strongest, it's about having fun and trying your personal best every time, and that's really the message we try to deliver to the students on a daily basis."
The program has already expanded from Indianapolis into Oregon, with more cities coming soon.
For all of his work on behalf of the children of Central Indiana, Hanley was selected as the Jefferson Award recipient for September.