January 24, 2019
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How a stolen bike changed two lives in small-town Maine

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
Jacob Whitehouse (left) and Tyson Gordon after Gordon gave the East Millinocket youth a bicycle he had won last year.

Jacob Whitehouse’s bicycle was stolen last week, hardly a day after his parents had taken it out of storage at their East Millinocket home.

Friends and neighbors across the Katahdin region kept watch for it, with a photo of the bike getting shared on Facebook more than 200 times. His mother, Beth Whitehouse, saw that her 15-year-old son had a hard time accepting the theft.

“Jacob loves riding his bike. He has autism, so he has his bike and it is routine that he gets to ride it,” Beth Whitehouse said Tuesday. “Anything other than the routine for him is really upsetting. He kept asking why anyone would want to take his bike.”

Jacob couldn’t have known it, but the situation that so saddened and bewildered him was just what Tyson Gordon was looking for.

The 12-year-old Millinocket boy had a brand-new 18-speed Huffy. It had been sitting in his family’s garage since May 2017. That’s when Tyson won it in a raffle he qualified for by completing a school reading program, his mother, Ryann Martin, said.

Already owning two bicycles, Tyson had no need for a third, and he wanted to begin to change something about himself. Considered a bully at school, the sixth-grader wanted to commit a great act of charity and see what lessons could be learned from it.

“He was taking some bad examples,” Martin said. “He was tending to be more a follower than a leader. He really is trying to turn that around.”

A dozen friends had asked for the bike, but Tyson always said no.

A bike, Tyson knew, is no small thing to a kid. It’s the freedom to glide through the air, to explore the world on one’s own terms — recklessly or safely — and to travel alone faster and farther than ever before.

Tyson wasn’t going to give the bike to just anybody.

“I didn’t want someone who had a lot of bikes and just wanted a bike. I didn’t want to give it to someone who just wanted a bike,” Tyson explained. “I wanted to give it to someone who purely needed a bike.”

Tyson knew who that person was the instant his mother mentioned the theft.

The Whitehouse and Gordon families are not strangers. Jacob’s father is East Millinocket school board chairman Ryan Whitehouse. Tyson’s dad is Jeffrey Gordon, a Millinocket school committee member.

Jacob’s cousin plays on Tyson’s teams. Tyson and Jacob knew each other from recreation league baseball and basketball, though they are not close.

Jacob and his father picked up the bike at the Gordon home on Saturday. They immediately saw in it something like a good omen. The bike is blue.

“That’s my favorite color,” Jacob said.

He took to the bicycle immediately.

“He was really excited and gave me a high-five. He repeatedly said ‘thank you’ for it. It made me feel really good,” Tyson said.

The Whitehouses are grateful for Tyson’s gift. They promise that when it’s not being ridden, this bike will be chained to something solid.

Tyson, meanwhile, is coping with an unexpected and not entirely welcome development from his generosity: fame.

Katahdin region friends and neighbors have been congratulating him profusely on social media, and in person, nothing he expected, his mother said.

“It’s like my Facebook blew up,” Tyson said.

“He just wanted to do this and not have it draw all this attention,” Martin said.

Yet the spotlight underlines the original message. After Tyson saw the benefits of being a leader and behaving well, Martin hopes her son will continue doing it.

“I hope he understands that good attention is better,” Martin said. “He does have a big heart. He is a good kid. I’m really hoping that this helps him.”

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