BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Retired two-sport star Bo Jackson hopes to raise $1 million for tornado relief and increase awareness of lingering damage across Alabama with a five-day, 300-mile bicycle ride through the state that begins Tuesday.
Jackson, a native of Bessemer in Jefferson County, said he was on the West Coast when 62 twisters blasted the state last April 27, killing about 250 people and leaving a path of destruction that officials said was the equivalent of an area 1,000 miles long and 20 miles wide.
While Jackson now lives in Illinois, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn University said the intensity and devastation of the storms touched him deeply.
"This is home for me. It will always be home for me," Jackson said Monday at a news conference with Gov. Robert Bentley and House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
After finding out his relatives were OK, the Heisman Trophy winner said he started thinking about ways to help. The result was "Bo Bikes Bama," in which Jackson will raise money by riding westward across the state through some of the dozens of communities that were hit by storms.
Riders can join Jackson for a donation of $200 a day, and each of the five specially built bicycles he is riding will be auctioned. The name of each person who died in the tornadoes is printed on the frame of each bike.
The trek will begin in northeast Alabama in tiny Henagar, located in DeKalb County, where more than 30 people were killed. The ride will end Saturday in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, where the former Auburn football and baseball player said anyone can join as he rides the last few miles into the city.
Jackson said numerous sports stars will join him along with way, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong; former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen; retired major leaguer Ken Griffey Jr.; snow skier Picabo Street; University of Georgia Heisman winner Herschel Walker; and numerous former teammates from Auburn.
Describing himself as a one-time "gangster" as a youth, the 49-year-old Jackson said he hopes "Bo Bikes Bama" will turn into an annual, one-day charity ride after this year.
"I find myself getting softer and more philanthropic in my old age," he said.
Bentley said Alabama has made great strides recovering from the disaster in the last year, but federal officials estimate the state still has $140 million in unfulfilled needs. Money raised by Jackson will go to the Governor's Emergency Relief Fund, which is assisting both individuals and organizations with tornado recovery.
"We've go a long way to go to meet the unmet needs in this state," said Bentley.