Man bikes across country to raise money for special needs, receives big surprise

At 63-years-old, Doug Freeland cycled from one end of the country to the other.
Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 11:11 PM EDT
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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (CBS46) - Doug Freeland decided he wanted to jump back into an old hobby of cycling, and he certainly didn’t ease into it.

“You’ve heard the phrase go big or go home… well, I wanted to get back into it in a big way,” said Freeland.

At 63 years old, Doug Freeland cycled from one end of the country to the other.

“We started at Manhattan Beach just south of Los Angeles and rode 3,423 miles, and finished at Revere Beach just North of Boston, Massachusetts; 49 days, averaged about 80 miles a day,” explained Freeland.

With every state line crossed, with every mile accumulated, through fields and mountain passes, he pedaled with a purpose.

“We had two desert crossings that we had to do… and going through Kansas and Missouri, cornfield after cornfield,” said Freeland. “Around here you really can’t train for that; it kind of got down to that mental aspect of ‘can I really do this?’”

Freeland dedicated each day to those working at a Gwinnett County bakery known as Special Kneads & Treats, people like Andrea Aycock.

CBS46 Surprise Squad
CBS46 Surprise Squad(CBS46)

When asked what was her favorite part about working there, Andrea replied, “do I have to have a favorite?”

Aycock has special needs and has worked at this bakery since last September.

Michael Kohler and his opened Special Kneads & Treats opened nine years ago after looking for a place for their son Bradley to work at. Bradley was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes mild to severe impairment.

“We have everything and every person from non-verbal in a wheelchair with limited motor skills all the way to folks in the front to IT work; we even have a blind lady working here,” said Kohler. “We started in a 17 hundred square foot facility with a 300 square foot kitchen, and we’re standing in a 2600 square foot kitchen and it’s all widened for wheelchairs, walkers...”

Now, the bakery is staffed by 38 full-time employees, like Andrea and JD, Freeland’s son and the reason he rode cross-country.

“On days when he does not work or go to the day program, he doesn’t have that hitch in his giddy-up and go he usually does,” said Freeland. “You know the quality of life just tapers off when they graduate from high school, and there’s just not a lot of opportunity for them.

Freeland completed the bucket list trip of a lifetime, all while giving opportunities back to special needs workers like JD. Over the course of a month, Freeland raised money for both the bakery and for the day program his son attends, chronicling every mile of his journey.

It wore me out watching him,” said Susan Keeney, Program Director and Co-founder of Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta. “Our members, we followed him; he would do a Facebook update every day, and we would cheer him on.. and I got worn out just watching it.”

By the time he finally touched the Atlantic Ocean, Doug Freeland had raised around $6,000.

After hearing about Freeland’s incredible journey and about how much he helped the workers at Special Kneads, the CBS46 Surprise Squad and United Community Bank stepped in to give back to a man who’d given so selflessly to others.

Amid uproarious applause, Freeland was presented with a check for $1,000, adding to the already impressive total he’d raised. That wasn’t all, as the CBS46 Surprise Squad presented Freeland with a $500 Visa Gift Card to spend on anything he wished.

“It’s been an honor to be able to ride for the bakery, and I’m glad I’m young enough to be able to do this,” said Freeland. “Who knows what the next adventure will be?”

Doug Freeland believes we all have that cross-country bike ride, that lifelong dream or bucket list goal, inside of us. The key is to do it.

“It’s one of those situations where you don’t look at the staircase and get overwhelmed”, said Freeland. “What you do is look at the next step and just keep plugging away, and every turn of the wheel gets you where you ultimately want to be.”

Check out the links below for more information or to offer your support to Special Kneads & Treats and to Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta.