Riders raise awareness of neglected elders

By Cindy Yurth

Tséyi' Bureau

CORNFIELDS, Ariz., Nov. 7, 2011

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Paul Jones from Navajoland Nursing Home in Chinle leads a small group of riders Saturday near Cornfields, Ariz., as they make their way back to Chinle. Jones, Bertram Lee and Ken White rode 134 miles to bring awareness of elders in nursing homes who are rarely visited by their families.

A lot of people assume it would be depressing to work in a nursing home.

But it's not the declining elders who depress Ken White, a physical therapy aide at Navajoland Nursing Home in Chinle.

"They're my therapy," White said.

Instead, it's some of the families of the elders.

"Watching people go weeks, months, without a visit, that's depressing," White said Oct. 29 after pulling over in Cornfields and jumping off his mountain bike for an interview with the Navajo Times.

White is scheduled to leave the nursing home at the end of the year to work on his physical therapy degree, but first he decided to do what he loves the most - ride his bicycle - as a way to raise awareness of the neglected elders in his care.

His message is simple: "People, visit your grandma and grandpa!"

White and three other nursing home employees - CNA Jackie Yazzie, dietary aide Bertram Lee and a maintenance worker who would identify himself only as Michael - plus Paul Jones, who just came out in support of the cause - unloaded their bikes near Grand Falls, on the southern border of the reservation, at 5 a.m. Oct. 29 and rode to Chinle, arriving at 7:15 p.m.

"I was pretty sore Sunday but doing OK today," White said Monday at work.

White and Jones made it all the way while the others took turns in the sag wagon.

It was a 134-mile stretch along highways and back roads, freezing cold in the morning and hot by afternoon, although they were blessed with a beautiful sunny day. The riders battled leg cramps and nonexistent road shoulders to pedal their cause.

Since they carried no banners, it wasn't immediately apparent what that cause was, but "we stopped at all the stores and told people what we were doing," White said. "They were real supportive."

At 55, White can empathize with the elders. "I'm going to be in their shoes soon," he said.

Although anyone who can ride 134 miles in middle age - not to mention going back to school - is not likely to wind up in a nursing home in the near future.

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