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Bo knows charity

By Rebecca Angel Baer, CNN
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Wed June 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bo Jackson was very disturbed about tornadoes that hit Alabama, his home state
  • The famed athlete started an annual bike ride across the state to raise money for victims
  • Bo Bikes Bama funds will also go toward community shelters

(CNN) -- You might remember the ad campaign "Bo knows baseball. Bo knows football." But these days sports legend Bo Jackson knows charity.

Jackson has dedicated his post-pro-sports days to raising money to help restore the areas of his native Alabama devastated by a tornado in April 2011. He is also raising awareness on how to protect yourself and others from deadly storms.

Jackson recalls that day: "I was in Illinois, where I live, and I can't remember what I was doing but I got phone calls from relatives and friends saying there's a bad storm -- a big tornado."

Big indeed. A mile-wide tornado demolished much of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the surrounding areas on April 27, 2011. This killer tornado was a part of a bigger storm system that left more than 300 people dead in the Southeast. Jackson remembers a conversation he had with his sister in the aftermath.

Bo Jackson, center, leads a group of cyclists across Alabama to raise money for tornado victims.
Bo Jackson, center, leads a group of cyclists across Alabama to raise money for tornado victims.

"She said the storm was bad but everybody in our little town was OK. But other towns like Tuscaloosa, Cordova, Coleman, Jasper -- they got hit pretty hard," Jackson says.

Rocked by the news, Jackson, a native of Bessemer, Alabama, who starred in football and baseball at Auburn University, knew he couldn't just sit idly by as the community that supported him in his climb to success was now in ruins.

"I sat up and thought about what I can do to give back to my community, my state. And I came up with this harebrained idea to ride a bicycle across the state," Jackson says.

His idea became reality with the creation of Bo Bikes Bama. Jackson and his friends rode across the state to raise money not only to help rebuild but also to build community storm shelters.

"Bo Bikes Bama is an event where I want to make the rest of the country aware of just how severe a tornado can be. It's a way of coming back home and doing something for the people that had faith in me when I was younger. Bo Bikes Bama is all about caring about your brothers and sisters," Jackson says.

The first Bo Bikes Bama took place in 2012 and Jackson has vowed to make it an annual event because he feels the need will always be there. The storms will keep coming and the mission for him is not just to rebuild after loss, but to better prepare for the next storm.

"I decided to make it an annual event, as long as I can ride to raise money for tornado victims."

He also is aware that in addition to the money raised, the event is a morale booster for the survivors in these small towns.

"People will be struggling to rebuild for a long time. And just to see these people come out and stand beside the street and wave and smile after everything that they've been through -- lost family members, lost their homes, their jobs -- and they still come out (and) thank you for what you're doing. ... It's a period where everybody has decided to come together and work as one for one great cause," Jackson says.

In addition to the bike ride, Jackson and his group go into small Alabama towns seeking to persuade landowners to donate land where community storm shelters can be built.

"When you don't have a place to get out of the way of a tornado, a lot of people get injured, lose their lives. Hiding in a closet or getting in a bathtub doesn't work when the whole house is getting picked up off the foundation and getting thrown down the street," Jackson says.

And while the bike ride is Jackson's major annual fundraiser, he stresses that the need continues year round and his group collects donations year round to continue their efforts. "I would rather do something to prevent the loss of life now than wait until something else bad happens," Jackson says.

He also sees that severe weather like this affects many more Americans beyond Alabama and he recognizes the need to expand his reach.

"I have already been contacted by friends of mine to come and do the same thing in Mississippi. I've been contacted by friends of mine in Missouri (Jackson played baseball for the Kansas City Royals) that would love for me to come back there and do something there, and I want to. I will. But I gotta take care of home first."

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