By Jonathan Turner
DAVENPORT — The Pink Panther is missing in Montana.
On Saturday morning, June 1, Will Wolf was pedaling his recumbent tricycle through Montana, working his way through a cross-country trek to benefit the Creative Arts Academy of the Quad Cities. When he was 20 miles west of the north-central Montana town of Havre, he was hit by a car traveling 70 mph. He and the Pink Panther stuffed animal he carried on the trike were flung into the air.
EMTs quickly arrived on the scene and rushed Wolf to Northern Montana Hospital in Havre. He then was airlifted to a trauma center in Great Falls, where he spent four days.
Wolf, 61, and his wife, Laura, own a home in Davenport, but they live primarily in Minneapolis. He had surgery to repair his neck and left arm June 10 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and and he returned there several times for treatment.
Nearly four months after the accident, his arm is still in a mini-cast, but he recently regained motor skills in his left hand. He visited the Creative Arts Academy at 306 W. River Drive for the first time last week.
“I happen to love the arts and education," said Wolf, who was between jobs this year. "My wife came up with the idea to do something for a great cause, and this was the greatest cause I could think of.”
Formerly chief financial officer for Rock Island-based Barjan LLC, Wolf had a goal of raising $100,000 for the CAA. He began the ride that was designed to draw attention to his fundraising campaign May 16 in Seattle. At the time he was hit, he had gone over 800 miles in just over two weeks, including high-altitude climbs through the Cascades and Rocky Mountain ranges. He mainly stayed at motels along the way.
Wolf, who blogged about his journey online, had hoped to reach Davenport by June 22. His ultimate goal was Baltimore, Md., where his mom lives.
Wolf said a cross-country ride was always a dream of his, since it would give him a chance “to meet people and learn their stories,” he said. “The theme as I was cycling through the country really became centered around patience and education. Most of the people I met had some tie-in to education for their kids, doing what's right for their kids.”
"I felt like I got robbed of learning all those people's stories,” Wolf said of his ride being cut short. “I was really looking forward to that. By the same token, when the rehab started, it opened my eyes to how generous and giving people are.”
Before the accident, “I thought, 'I got it made. I got 20 days of nothing but the Plains and Midwest,' " Wolf recalled. “I'm also reflecting on the prior day. Montana's one of those states where they put crosses on the road where people died, and they're metal crosses. You'd notice them.”
“These people didn't know they were going to die in the next five seconds, and at that time I was thinking about the roads where I was, such that you couldn't bike on a shoulder,” he said. “I was thinking, fear or faith. If you had fear, you probably wouldn't do the ride, but you have to have faith that everybody's going to move over.”
Before the ride, Wolf was more worried about other traffic going through bends in the mountains, not the straight, flat roads.
The day he was hit, the CAA put on a benefit talent show, "Applause for a Cause." The students didn't find out about the wreck until the following Monday, after having raised $2,400.
Many students took up his ride for him, and with family and friends, they covered over 4,200 miles by riding bikes and horses, walking, and swimming," said Jessica Taylor, CAA coordinator and development specialist. “It was everybody — everybody was banding together," she said. "We called it 'The Will to Finish.' "
“That was very inspiring. ... Maybe one day I can try again,” Wolf said.
Levia Collman, a CAA seventh-grader, went on bike rides with her family every Sunday over the summer, and they logged their miles to add to the project. Hailey Ross, another seventh-grader, said she thought it was important to support the cause because she loves the arts and sports.
"I wanted to do it because I never heard of someone biking across the country for a school," said seventh-grader Trey Gordon. "I thought that was really cool, not just 'cause it was my school, but it would also make the Creative Arts Academy more open to the public."
On Aug. 30, Taylor's husband, Tom, a 2004 Davenport Central alum, celebrated his birthday by throwing a CAA fundraiser at Crawford Brew Works. With the help of local artists and performers, he raised $3,400 for CAA.
"Throughout the last couple of years, I've seen the positive impact this magnet school has on public education, through Jessica working as program and development coordinator, through myself teaching summer workshops at the academy, and through the projects in the community I see the students involved in," Tom Taylor said.
"This is a celebration on the work being done to advocate for arts in education. This school is at the forefront of improving the Davenport Community School District."
Over Wolf's months of physical rehab — he's still doing three sessions a week — he's learned to be patient, he said. “You surrender control; other people take care of you. The injuries, the nerve damage is significant, so it's going to take a long time," he said. "I don't know if I'll get it all back.”
In July, Wolf was walking with a friend who's been treated for cancer, and a couple of women who noticed his neck brace and cast told Wolf he was brave. "Here this guy was battling cancer surgeries, but because he doesn't have any of the physical appearances, people don't recognize the courage and commitment he's got," Wolf said. "It's amazing how much things open to you when you go through an experience.”
"That's what the injuries taught me, too. You take for granted you have a left hand and a left arm," he said. "When you see people who have disabilities, you appreciate what they've had to go through."
"Even at my age, I'm still learning how to live," Wolf said.
The incident also spurred his interest in raising awareness about bicyclists on roads, and he is upset that no charges have been filed against the motorist who hit him.
“I'm starting to get more disturbed that more cyclists across the country are getting hit; 800 cyclists a year die on the roads, on average," he said.
His ride also taught him about limiting material possessions.
"I was guilty of this. I probably had 50 of these blue shirts, and I went home and I took 40 of them to Goodwill," Wolf said. "I got rid of all this stuff. If you focus on what's really important in life, it's family and friends. You don't need all the material things to survive."