Darcy Creech is an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, and when she gets it in her mind to do something she goes at it full speed ahead. Creech has launched her own line of designer hats, opened retail locations for her Peter Beaton studio on Nantucket, raised money to build water wells in Africa, and founded a credit card processing company that enables merchants to reallocate processing fees to charities. This year, Creech made it her mission to breathe new life into one of Nantucket’s most underserved demographics: our disabled elderly.
Moved by an online video about a man who developed a wheelchair bicycle so that he could continue riding with his wife who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, Creech set out to raise $35,000 in thirty-five days to purchase three custom-made tandem “Duet” bikes (along with helmets, insurance, liability costs, and cab fare) for elderly and disabled residents on the island. “It was such a beautiful video and I thought it would be an amazing thing to bring to [retirement centers like] Our Island Home,” Creech explained, citing how old age and disability can be emotionally and physically isolating and depressing, especially when one loses the ability to be mobile.
Creech admits that the project was met with some resistance at first, but she fought through it. As a result of her unwavering enthusiasm, determination, and fundraising savvy, as well as the generous support of dedicated volunteers and sponsors like Don Allen Ford, Nantucket Bike Shop and Nantucket Bike Tours, Nantucket’s elderly are now taking daily joy rides with volunteer peddlers on our local bike paths. “It’s like watering a flower,” Creech says. “They come alive, their eyes open up wide and they’re just so happy to be out on the bikes.”
Keep an eye out for 99-year-old Myrtle Ostrowski, Nantucket Wheelers’ oldest passenger and quite possibly their biggest advocate, as she gets peddled down the Polpis bike path, safely strapped into a wheelchair on the front of a bicycle, looking cool in her helmet and sunglasses, with the wind blowing through her hair and a beaming smile on her face. “I think it’s the best thing they ever invented,” says Ostrowski. “It gets all us old ducks out.”
Ostrowski, who like many Our Island Home residents is confined to a wheelchair, enjoys the change of scenery that the Nantucket Wheelers program offers. On one of her recent trips, they stopped at the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum. Since the wheelchairs easily detach from the “Duet” bicycle base, the peddlers were able to park the bikes and roll their passengers inside for a tour. “It was a very interesting afternoon,” says Ostrowski, who talks excitedly about how she loved to bike when she was young. “But, of course, now I wouldn’t be able to balance,” she says, gesturing to her frail body. “But with [the wheelchair bikes],” she says, smiling, “I don’t have to balance. I just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Another champion for the cause is Our Island Home resident David Worth, former general manager and commissioner of the Wannacomet Water Company. On one trip, he and Creech peddled all the way out to ‘Sconset with a little help from the bike’s battery assist mechanism. They ended up taking a little detour on Baxter Road and bumped into some people Worth knew. “It just uplifted his spirits,” said Creech, who points out that one of the great things about the program is that there’s a real social element, since observers are constantly striking up conversations with them. “It’s a lot of fun — the best thing that ever happened around here,” says Worth, who loves getting out on the bike and into the fresh air. And as a bonus he adds, “You get to ride with pretty ladies.”
OIH Director of Nursing Gail Ellis says she has received extremely positive feedback from residents and their families. “It’s hard to be in a long-term care facility when this is all there is,” explains Ellis. “But having this new experience and getting outside, it’s wonderful for them. Residents are so excited about it. They’re more engaged and they’re happier.”
“In my mind they’re rock stars,” exclaims Creech. “They’re 99, 97, 94… and they’re getting out there and trying something new. Honestly, I don’t know who’s having more fun, them or me.” However, Creech confesses that they have received one complaint so far. She smiles and says: “It was that Myrtle got to go out twice in a row.” Nantucket Wheelers currently has fifteen certified volunteer peddlers and serves OIH and Sherburne Commons. Services will expand as more volunteers come on board, and Creech’s Nantucket Wheelers hopes to roll on for many years to come.