When Lester Thomas met the love of his life, he had a renewed sense of purpose. What he needed was a bike. That’s where St. Vincent de Paul helped.
Lester already had plans to get in shape with the hopes of trying again for a kidney transplant. Now, he had the added motivation of wanting to be sleek and svelte for when his girlfriend, who loves exercise, would move to Phoenix next year.
“She’s the love of my life,” Lester said. “I’m so lucky to have found her. I kid you not, she has changed my whole life.”
That says a lot from a man who went through a bought of homelessness not so long ago. Lester is a U.S. Air Force veteran and former resident of Ozanam Manor, the SVdP transitional shelter for seniors, veterans and disabled adults.
Before arriving at the shelter, Lester had couch surfed with friends and family. He hadn’t always been in such need. For 26 years, Lester worked in the car business as a finance director and a manager before that. But the extreme decline in his health and eventual diagnosis of kidney failure put him out of work.
“It just goes to show you that you can be on one top one minute and be totally nothing the next,” Lester said. “It's a real humbling experience.”
In March, after only three months of living there, Lester moved out of Ozanam Manor into a place of his own in Peoria, Arizona. Having found his financial footing with Social Security Disability and VA benefits, he was ready and willing to purchase a used bike in July. But Julia Matthies, director of the shelter, insisted on gifting a bike to him from SVdP’s Bike Shop, which repairs used bikes to be given to residents, guests and children in need. It’d only been a few months since Lester moved out, and he now carried the full weight of his food, housing and medical expenses.
Lester’s first transplant didn’t take, so he started dialysis and has orders from the doctor to slim down. He has good and bad days, but he hopes that getting a little exercise will get him healthy enough to attempt a second transplant.
“Some days, if I go out and do grocery shopping and everything, more than likely the next day I'm going to be in bed all day. That’s how debilitating it is sometimes as far as your muscle joints and being able to breathe,” said Lester, who is unsure of his life expectancy. “That’s why I want a bike, so I can start getting some of the weight off me, because I think it'll make me feel better, and I won't have as many problems I don't think.”
Lester used to mountain bike in his younger years. In so many ways, his new love makes him feel young and vital again.
“Since I found her in the middle part of April, it's just been…my life feels like I can wake up every morning and my heart sings and I'm happy,” Lester said. “So I gotta keep trying to push myself to do whatever it takes to keep on living.”
Next year, on March 31, Lester will celebrate his 65th birthday. He’s willing to skip the cake, as long as he can get a kiss that day.
Lester's bike has empowered him to strive for a new and different life for himself. What could the bike in your garage do for a person or child in need? Help make more transportation transformations possible. This Saturday, Sept. 26, you can donate your bike at 19 different Earnhardt Dealership locations across the Valley for the Second Chance Bike Drive benefitting SVdP. Don't have a bike to give? Donate online to help with tubes, tires and parts.