to The Observer
By Jeremy Henderson
Former Auburn basketball player Gary Godfrey just participated in his third Bo Bikes Bama event.
Apparently, he didn’t get the memo.
Godfrey, a 1986 industrial engineering graduate who played alongside Charles Barkley as the Tigers reached the Elite 8 before embarking on a highly successful 30-year career in logistics and brand management consulting, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2019.
ALS degrades nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It causes loss of muscle control and paralysis. It’s supposed to keep you from doing things like completing a 20-mile charity bike ride.
But it didn’t, thanks to 13 students in Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering who said “yes” to the challenge.
Last week, a senior design team comprised of eight mechanical engineering seniors, an industrial master’s student volunteer, three mechanical engineering graduate teaching assistants and an undergraduate teaching assistant completed a custom student-designed adaptive bike that could accommodate Godfrey, and the vehicle’s operator, Chuck Smith, an experienced cyclist who has known Godfrey for years. The team was supervised by assistant mechanical engineering professor Kyle Schulze and mechanical engineering lecturer Jordan Roberts, who also serves as the director of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Design and Manufacturing Lab.
For an initial test ride, the team reached out to Auburn senior tight end Luke Deal, who at 6-foot-5-inch and 260 pounds could nearly replicate Godfrey’s 6-foot-8-inch, 290-pound frame. Deal’s father, Chris, was diagnosed with ALS in early 2021.
The bike is a modified cargo e-bike with a custom-built frame that includes a hot-swappable battery for continuous operation. Godfrey sat securely in the front of the bike between two 20-inch tires pushed by the powered rear wheel and was monitored by three primary sensors — two GoPro cameras and a “twitch switch” — that allowed his support team to monitor his vital signs during the race. The twitch switch was attached to Godfrey’s cheek and connected to a light and siren system allowing him to signal the team via the slight facial mobility he maintains had he been in distress. He was secured to a racing seat with a five-point harness and his head was supported with a HANS device typical of motorsports safety.
“Building the bike for Gary was a great experience because it was an example of a real-world design and build process — we were working on a tight schedule with a big group,” said mechanical engineering senior Joshua McCreight, the project’s team lead. “I’m really pleased we got it done in time for Gary to participate in Bo Bikes Bama. We were committed to finishing it, not only because it was our senior design project, but because it’s such a great way to share the positive impact of Gary’s story.”
Beginning and ending at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Godfrey and Smith completed the event’s 20-mile course in approximately two hours.
Godfrey and his wife, Carol, who also earned an industrial and systems engineering degree from Auburn in 1986, first approached the college about the project late last year.
“We weren’t willing to give up on the things that we love just because of a bad break,” Carol said. “Gary has ALS, but ALS doesn’t have Gary.”
Started in 2011, Bo Bikes Bama is an annual charity ride led by two-sport legend Bo Jackson benefiting the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. This year’s ride was the first in-person since 2019.
Before the ride, Auburn University President-elect Chris Roberts, former dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, along with Auburn University Football Head Coach Bryan Harsin and Auburn Mayor Ron Anders, powered Godfrey on a short demonstration of the bike’s capabilities.
“This project and this day represents the full circle of the Auburn mission of education, research and outreach,” Roberts said. “The bike ran incredibly well. I’m so proud of these students and so happy for Gary. This is what the Auburn Family is all about.”
Godfrey said he agrees.
“Thanks to these Auburn Engineering students,” Godfrey said through the speech-generating device he controls with his eyes, “I got to feel the wind in my face again.”