By Marie Damman Herald Writer
Carolyn van der Meulen, 17, is a senior at Kamiak High School. She also is the co-founder of Foster Bikes, a nonprofit organization that gives bicycles to foster children in Snohomish, Skagit, King and Pierce counties. She recently was honored as an “Unsung Hero” by Spirit Radio 105.3 in Seattle.
Question: When you first heard about your award, how did you feel?
Answer: The first thing I heard was a text message. It said, “Hey I just heard your name on the radio.” I hadn’t heard anything about that radio station. Then I got all these text messages — it was around 15 text messages just saying, “Hey, I heard you on the station, good luck with your Foster Bikes.” We started getting emails from people who wanted to donate a bike or money.
Then, we heard from the radio station. It wanted to support us, too. It was just a groundswell. We still have email coming in from the radio. It increases the support.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this organization?
A: When we were younger, my older brother, Keith, and I used to have a bike group to ride to school. We would ride every day, rain or snow. We had so many memories with friends riding bikes to and from school. I wanted to provide every child that memory, and that was the inspiration.
Q: How do you keep up at school?
A: I’ve been doing really well at school. All my classes are challenging and they really make me think about where I am going in the future. A lot of classes I have taken have inspired me to go into physical therapy. I went through a really difficult physical injury over the past year, and I’ve had huge support from the school district.
Q: What was the physical injury and how did you manage?
A: It is called complex pain syndrome. It is a pain disorder where an initial injury would turn into something that is much more severe. My initial injury was in August 2012. Since then it got a lot stronger around last March. I finally got the diagnosis around April.
Everyone came behind me and helped me get through it. Also, when I heard stories about foster children, it would really give me this understanding that maybe I’m going through this but when I look at what I have, I can be so grateful for everything.
Q: Do you have a good luck charm?
A: I have two bracelets I wear all the time. One says “courage” and the other says “laugh.” My mom got them for me when I was in the hospital. I would remember that I had so much support and that I have to be a little more courageous and laugh about something and just remember that the next morning will be better.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: My brother is in college. As soon as he gets home, he’s back to work in the garage and gets his hands greasy.
My parents are really supportive of everything we do. If we are struggling with Foster Bikes, they help us and support us any way we need, for school as well. They make sure that it is me and my brother running the company, so they never take over.
Q: What are your favorite classes?
A: I love math and science. I think the class that inspired me to go into physical therapy was sports medicine. Even English class tends to make me more well-spoken. I can feel more professional to patients or anyone I am talking to.
Q: What do you plan to do after graduation?
A: I am looking at a four-year university undergrad, and I applied to Washington State University* and Seattle University. Then I’d like to get a master’s degree in physical therapy and eventually open a stable for hippotherapy, which is physical therapy on horseback.
Q: What kind of jobs do you do, in addition to Foster Bikes?
A: I started working at the Kamiak athletes’ training room. I work with all the athletes and all the sports at the school. If they get injured, we help to rehabilitate them and prevent injuries. I also have a job at Cascade Rehabilitation Associates, which is a physical therapy clinic just a few minutes away. I get to shadow physical therapists and learn a lot from them.