The story behind SU’s Pirate Bikes
Yellow Pirate Bikes. If you’ve been in Georgetown any stretch of time, you’ve seen them on Southwestern University’s campus. And you probably know that students, faculty, staff, and visitors are free to grab one to ride to class or to cruise the campus’s beautiful grounds.
What you may not know is that the iconic yellow bikes—which represent the university in magazines, newspapers, marketing materials, and on the web—were provided because of a sister’s desire to memorialize her brother, a Southwestern alum.
It was a cool September morning in 2003 when Heidi Brooks got the call about her brother. Wally Meyer had been riding his bike at 35 mph near Zilker Park in Austin when he collided with a city bus. When he came to, he couldn’t feel his legs. He had broken his neck.
Heidi rushed to Brackenridge Hospital, still not believing what she had heard. She couldn’t get a grip on the fact that her younger brother, who had been her cheerleader and hero, was now a quadriplegic.
“He was my Rock of Gibraltar,” Heidi says. “He was the nicest, easiest-to-talk-to best friend anyone could ever wish for. He would listen to you for hours.”
Heidi also shares another side of Wally: his passion for health and sports. “He was very set in his ways. He exercised, he ate well,” she says. “My kids called him ‘The Machine’ because every time he came to visit, he’d bench press them.”
Heidi recalls that when she and Wally were little, and their mother served them grapes, Wally would peel his one by one before he’d eat any. Heidi couldn’t help marveling at his patience and determination. “He was like that with everything: exercise, diet. He called it ‘maintaining the machine.’”
Wally maintained his machine throughout his time at Southwestern University, where he had transferred from the Air Force Academy to play sports. He joined the Southwestern basketball team, which won two national title games during his time as a student. Wally graduated in 1986.
After a knee injury and surgery, which hampered his ability to play basketball, Wally became an avid cyclist. “I think his passion for the outdoors probably had a great deal to do with it,” Heidi says.
On Saturdays, Wally would go on timed rides with his cycling group, always working to beat his most recent time. It was during one of these rides, when Wally had ridden far ahead of his group, that the accident occurred. Wally passed away five months later, on February 8, 2004.
April Hampton Perez, Senior Director of Gift and Estate Planning, recalls how the idea of honoring Wally came about. “Jerry Brody, head of Student Life, had been trying to think of new and innovative things to have on campus for the students to enjoy,” she says.
“We knew that cycling was a passion of [Wally’s]. We approached Heidi to see if that was something she wanted to do to honor Wally.” Heidi jumped at the chance to memorialize her brother and funded the purchase of the first fifty bikes in 2004.
Although Wally’s life was cut short, every yellow Pirate Bike honors him. Whenever people use one of the 120 bikes to get around campus, they benefit from Heidi’s appreciation of her brother and what mattered to him: health, hard work, passion for the outdoors, and love for Southwestern University.
Watch the Pirate Bike kick off video, with footage of Heidi’s speech, on the Southwestern website.
“It is still a fabulous cause. It’s so fun to see people doing what Wally loved.”