Oakland County educator goes from back injury to biking across Michigan, Iron Belle Trail

Photo courtesy: Michigan DNR; Riding partners Sharon Crain and Jeff Ring began a journey on...
Photo courtesy: Michigan DNR; Riding partners Sharon Crain and Jeff Ring began a journey on Michigan's Iron Belle Trail in late July in which they hope to cover more than 300 miles and raise $6,000 to purchase bikes for kids. Just a few years ago, Crain suffered a back injury that nearly took away her mobility. She began riding bikes in her recovery and now rides pain-free. (WLUC)
Published: Aug. 4, 2017 at 11:34 AM EDT
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Who says you never have to learn how to ride a bike a second time?

Sharon Crain of Waterford, Michigan, knows firsthand that is not always the case. A couple years ago Crain, 51, and an educator for more than 25 years, had a nearly debilitating back injury.

“The injury was so severe,” she said. “Being mobile is everything in life to me.”

After discovering the source of pain and going through rehabilitation, Crain found a new purpose in life. This summer, part of that purpose will be to ride hundreds of miles of Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail in the Upper Peninsula and, if all goes as planned, raise $6,000 to help purchase bicycles for kids in need.

“I kind of want to pay it forward,” she said. “I ride with no pain now. I know having a healthy, strong body breeds a healthy state of mind. If we can teach kids at the youngest age that, it benefits everyone.”

Crain, who is an instructional technologist for Clarkston Community Schools, fell on April Fool’s Day three years ago and broke her wrist. She didn’t realize it right away, but also suffered a herniated disc.

“It left me where I could barely move,” she said.

Crain went through 12 weeks of therapy and three injections to alleviate the pain. Now, she walks, goes rock climbing, has entered multiple fitness challenges and, of course, rides bikes. The rides started on the back roads of Clarkston and led to longer, organized community rides across the state.

“I was always active, an outdoor enthusiast,” she said. “I did things, but nothing like I do today. I’m stronger. I’m more vibrant than I’ve ever been. I’m grateful.”

Originally from Bridgman, Michigan, near the Indiana border, Crain has planned for three separate weekends on the Upper Peninsula stretch of the Iron Belle Trail – the longest state-designated trail in the nation. She and riding partner Jeff Ring plan to ride about 110 miles each weekend. The ride will start in St. Ignace and end in Ironwood. They completed the first 100-mile-plus leg the weekend of July 29-30.

Along the way, Crain and Ring are working with the private, nonprofit organization Oakland Family Services to find kids that currently do not have bikes. Oakland Family Services will purchase bikes from Back Alley Bikes in Detroit, a nonprofit community bike shop that provides cycling education for youths.

“Buying the used bikes from Back Alley Bikes allows us to support an additional charity while obtaining bikes at a discount compared to new bikes,” she said. “Again, this will allow us to distribute more bikes to more children. We want to get bikes into the hands of more kids.”

The Iron Belle Trail encompasses more than 2,000 miles of Michigan on hiking and biking trails, stretching from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula. The 791-mile bicycle route traverses urban areas near Detroit and winds across the eastern side of Michigan to Mackinaw City and across U.S. Route 2 in the Upper Peninsula. The trail allows hikers and riders a chance to explore pristine forests, cool rivers, big cities and diverse towns. It crosses 48 counties and hundreds of municipalities around the state.

Crain said the bike ride in the U.P. is her goal this summer but there is plenty more riding in her future.

“You just never know,” she said. “Having the ability to just do daily functions and being mobile is really big for me. I don’t ever want to be in that position again.

“My injury really forced me to enjoy life – to value what’s really important. Life is about relationships and enjoying the time we have. In the blink of an eye our mobility can be taken away. The injury made me take a deep breath and change my life. … I’m looking forward to this new challenge.”

To help Crain and Ring raise money for the ride, they have created a


For more on the Iron Belle Trail or to view an interactive map of the trail, visit