NIH director Dr. Francis Collins pedals down Center Dr. on BTWD.
As most employees know, Bike to Work Day is observed at NIH every day of the year—especially in years like 2012 when there was essentially no winter—by quite a few of our colleagues.
But on May 18, pedalers were out in force, including, for the third year in a row, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who cruised down Center Dr. with his wife Diane Baker on the official BTWD. And for the 7th year in a row, NIH had the most registered participants in the event among local organizations, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).
Collins and his wife Diane Baker (r) pose with members of the late Carl Henn’s family, including (from l) daughter Jessica, father Dwight, mother Diane and widow Carol.
Photos: Bill Branson
“Thank you for coming out,” Collins greeted a small crowd at a pit stop on Paul Rogers Plaza in front of Bldg. 1, “and for doing this kind of demonstration of how we are the National Institutes of Health. So we believe in promoting health, not only for everybody else in the world, but for ourselves. And setting an example as you all have today is terrific.”
Collins said he and his wife have been biking a lot this spring, including a 25-mile ride as part of the Bike DC event the previous weekend. One reason for the added mileage, he said, is that “I got a decent bicycle instead of that thing I rode last year—which people made fun of, by the way.
“I hope you had a great commute,” he added. “And I hope you’ll think about doing this not just once a year, but more often than that. It is certainly a good way to enjoy the outdoors and to get some exercise.”
Collins asked how many in the crowd had seen his appearance the previous week on The Colbert Report, during which he outlined the scope and danger of the obesity epidemic facing the United States. He said he got a lot of comments about a prop he displayed on the show—a 5-pound hunk of fat. He brought the prop along on BTWD, and Baker unveiled it for the crowd to see.
Collins divulged that he shed about 30 pounds in the past 3 years, or roughly six times the prop-size portion.
Angela Atwood-Moore, who has been active in the leadership of the NIHBCC since about 2005, holds first Carl Henn Bicycling Advocacy Award.
“Pass that around,” he joked. “People probably want to touch it. No carving off pieces, now…”
Collins, whose commute from his home in Chevy Chase is about 4 miles each way, said NIH’ers could use their bike commuting time to think “great thoughts all along the way.” He related that Albert Einstein is thought to have conceived of the Theory of Relativity while pedaling at night, using a headlight to illuminate his path.
“So maybe NIH will be greatly blessed today, tomorrow and the next day by all of you riding your bikes and having those great thoughts. Coming back to work and doing something that will change the world. That’s what we’re all about here…Ride safe!”
The event included presentation of the inaugural Carl Henn Bicycling Advocacy Award; Henn, who was killed by lightning in July 2010, was a former NIH employee and community activist who helped launch the NIH Bicycle Commuter Club. The award—a trophy and restaurant gift certificate—went to NICHD’s Angela Atwood-Moore, who has been active in the leadership of the NIHBCC since about 2005.
“Carl was so great because he stuck to [his advocacy],” said Atwood-Moore, accepting the award from Dr. Diane Bolton of the NIHBCC. “He didn’t get angry and he didn’t get confrontational. He just let the facts lead people to the conclusions that he had already reached.”
Bolton said Atwood-Moore was chosen nearly unanimously for the Henn award in honor of her passionate advocacy on behalf of bicycle commuters and her development of the Bike Bucks program at NIH, which offers incentives for employees to pedal to work.
Baker holds 5-pound hunk of fat aloft as Collins recounts his recent appearances on The Colbert Report and his involvement with the recent HBO series The Weight of the Nation.
Henn’s survivors, including his wife Carol, daughter Jessica and parents Dwight and DianeHenn, were on hand to witness the presentation
and meet Collins.
Regional BTWD organizers say some 12,700
people cycled to work on May 18, which is more
than have ever participated in the annual event.
According to Commuter Connections, “Bike
to Work Day 2012 exceeded its goal of 12,500
commuters and the number of participants
increased by almost 2,000 compared to 2011.”
“We were tops again with 591 official registered
participants,” said Joe Cox, chief of transportation
services, ORS. “I think we had much more,
but [there’s] no way to say how many.”
Pit stops around the area, including three at
NIH, welcomed cyclists and bicycling convoys
with free T-shirts, food, beverages, bike checks
and prizes provided by regional and local
“This event has increased the popularity of bicycling
as a reliable, sustainable and healthy commuting
option thanks to the support and dedication
of participants, sponsors, volunteers and
officials,” said David Robertson, executive director
of MWCOG. “Regionally, Bike to Work Day
has grown tremendously. Five years ago, 6,600
people participated in the event. Since then, the
number has nearly doubled and pit stops have
increased from 49 to 58. Next year, we look forward
to even more participants.”
“Commuters throughout the metropolitan area
are looking for ways to make their commutes
easier and less costly. Bicycling to work is one
of the options that can improve the daily commute,”
said Nicholas Ramfos, director of Commuter
Connections. “The dramatic growth of
this event is an indicator that area commuters
view bicycling as a viable commute alternative
that can fit into their daily routine.”
Above, BTWD organizer Dr. Diane Bolton (l) of the NIH Bicycle Commuter Club
displays this year’s event T-shirt with Collins. Below, Zoe Helen Baker, 2, has been
riding her scooter bike since she was 18 months old, including scooting to NIH last
year for the 2011 Bike to Work Day. With her is granddad Dr. Houston Baker, program
director in NCI’s Cancer Imaging Program. Missing from the photo is Zoe’s mother, Dr.
Eva H. Baker, a neuroradiologist in Bldg. 10. She did not bike to work May 18 because
her tire blew out and a spare bike was not handy.
Click on this video to see Dr. Francis Collins’ address to the BTWD crowd.