ANN COLEMAN: This was all part of a plan — God’s, not mine
PARK CITY, Utah — Ann Coleman is on a flight from Utah to Louisiana today. She’s bringing her bike so that she can pedal the Railroad — the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure’s 1,373-mile, four-week Underground Railroad ride from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, retracing much of the historic path so many slaves one followed to freedom.
It will be her eighth Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure since 2016, and she has become passionate about the fundraising and awareness ride, as well as the housing ministry it supports and promotes.
However, that wasn’t the original plan.
Ann never planned to become a Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure fundraising juggernaut who has generated tens of thousands of dollars for affordable housing. She did not set out to start the first Fuller Center covenant partner in the state of Utah, nor play a part in seeing three more develop in the past two years — a new one in Salt Lake, and two in Price and Logan that converted from affiliates of another housing nonprofit.
She had simply come to Utah County in the mid-1980s with Nestle USA as a human resources manager at a 1,600-employee plant that she would ultimately be responsible for as the plant manager, a position she held until 2001.
In 2016, though, a new path began to take shape — a little at a time.
“At that time, I was doing a little bit of riding,” she recalls. “I had a friend who had MS, so I was doing the MS150 and raising money. A friend made a donation, and I called to thank him. He told me what his wife was doing — riding across the country with this organization called Fuller.”
Ann figured it was only fair that she return to the favor by supporting his wife, Jackie Rouse, in her charitable bike riding effort.
“It was one of those moments in time that stands out to me,” Ann says. “It was definitely a God thing as far as I’m concerned looking back on it. I can picture myself sitting at my computer, phone in my ear, talking to this guy and Googling ‘The Fuller Center for Housing.’ This was 2016. And I thought, wow, this is really cool.”
But what you see and what you hear only goes so far. Experiencing it first-hand is the only way to get the full picture. So, when Jackie called to thank her, she told Ann that the 2016 cross-country ride was coming through Salt Lake City and that she should consider joining for a day or even a weeklong segment. Ann decided she better further her research before making such a commitment, so she called Fuller Center headquarters in Americus, Georgia. Connor Ciment, then the Bicycle Adventure coordinator, answered the phone.
“He did a great job of explaining what Fuller was all about and bringing me on board,” Ann remembers. But it was his response to her question about whether The Fuller Center was a competitor with Habitat for Humanity, both of which were founded by Millard Fuller. He responded by telling her what Millard always had said about the only time there would ever be a fight with Habitat — when there’s one house left to build in the world, and then we’ll fight over who gets to build it.
“I just loved that,” she says. “It’s not about ‘Look at us.’ It’s about how do we help people.”
She signed up for a weeklong segment from Salt Lake City to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
“I was a rookie, rookie rider,” she confesses. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and now I’m going to ride across the Rocky Mountains, so that was pretty interesting.”
And, she would need to do a little fundraising in order to join.
“I didn’t want to bother friends and family because it was a selfish bike trip,” she says. “I was thinking, I can’t believe I’m spending $500 to ride and go sleep on floors in churches.’”
Between Salt Lake and Cheyenne, the Bicycle Adventurers hopped off their bikes for a build day in Craig, Colorado — working on a home for women and children in need. For many Bicycle Adventurers, such build days are what truly tie the ride to the ministry.
“That day was the beginning of the real mission for me because it was like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is a pretty amazing organization,’” she says. “It was just like what I had seen. It changed my position from it being a bike ride to it being a mission to help people. It was a very positive transition.”
She then took her riding a step further, signing up for the Adventure’s 2017 ride down the West Coast. That ride led to another providential event, albeit with a painful start. She developed knee problems before the ride and had to work with a physical therapist. Among the therapist’s tools was KT Tape — a product produced near Ann’s home. It worked.
“By the end of the ride, I had KT Tape on both my knees, on my Achilles, tape on my calf,” she recalls with a chuckle.
Fellow rider Anna Little told her she should tweet such an image to KT Tape and one of their sponsored athletes, beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings. Each retweeted it. Ann used that as an opening to approach KT Tape about supporting her next ride. Navigating the channels to get to the top took a while, but she found a receptive audience at the top with CEO Greg Venner. He apologized for not getting back to her sooner.
“He said, ‘I need to start small’” she recalls. “‘I’m going to write you a check for $5,000.’ I just about fell out of my chair!”
Today, KT Tape is a major sponsor of the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure. As for Greg Zenner, he is the president of The Fuller Center for Housing of Utah County. Ann Coleman is the secretary.
Ann’s first cross-country ride was 2018’s ride from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.
“It was 10 weeks on a bicycle,” Ann recalls. “As you can imagine, that’s a lot of time to be in God’s country and just have time to reflect and think and pray. And on that trip, I really felt nudged to get something started in Utah. I felt the call was not just to start a covenant partner but to bring Fuller to Utah.”
Even before she able to officially get the Utah County partner off the ground officially, she agreed to have a build day for when the Bicycle Adventure came through the area on its 2019 cross-country ride. To pull it off without even having a Fuller Center covenant partner yet, she leaned on contacts and friends she had made through the years — including the local United Way and, of course, KT Tape.
KT Tape shut its doors so that employees could volunteer alongside the riders as they worked on three homes that day, including a roof replacement.
“That day, the bikers were instrumental because they talked about Fuller and they talked about it with passion,” Ann recalls. “We had a hundred volunteers hearing the Fuller story. Greg Zenner and the founding board were all there. That was the beginning of The Fuller Center of Utah County.”
She could see someone’s plan was coming together.
“I feel like God placed me in here in the mid-1980s not to run a Nestle factory,” she insists. “That’s not why I was here. That work prepared me with the skills and contacts in Utah County that opened doors I’d have never dreamed of.”
Today, all four Fuller Center covenant partners in Utah are going strong. Ann believes that The Fuller Center’s mission of putting faith into action in tangible ways helps spread God’s love, her basic faith tenet.
“On the build days, I feel like there are a lot of people who would not set foot in a church, but they will come to a Fuller work day,” she says. “They’re in the circle in the morning, they’re hearing scripture. They may not know it, but they’re being the hands and feet of Jesus while they’re working. Our volunteers walk away with very, very positive experiences. So it’s a ministry that’s very different from church, but it’s growing people’s faith. This is such a great way to get people to love others.”