They saw his empty tandem bike seat and joked he lost a rider. He did – his wife died

Bill Griffith will again honor his wife by riding in this weekend’s Bike MS: Los Angeles

Bill Griffith will again honor his wife by riding in this weekend's Bike MS: Los Angeles. The couple used to ride a tandem together. After Alicia died, Bill rode the couple's tandem alone.
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Bill Griffith will again honor his wife by riding in this weekend's Bike MS: Los Angeles. The couple used to ride a tandem together. After Alicia died, Bill rode the couple's tandem alone.

Cyclists joked with Bill Griffith about how he lost a rider when they noticed he was alone on a tandem bike meant for two during a charity ride to fight multiple sclerosis.

Griffith informed them that, yes, he had: His wife and cycling partner, Alicia Haro, who died. He was riding 100 miles throughout Los Angeles in honor of her courage, beauty and strength as she battled MS. That empty seat was hers.

That was 2017, a year after Haro died at age 47. Griffith, who lives near Shaver Lake, will return to “Bike MS: Los Angeles” with his cycling team, “Friends of Alicia,” on Saturday to raise more money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It’s the society’s closest charity ride to Fresno, where Griffith works as Copper River Country Club’s property supervisor.

“Alicia was just my best friend, the love of my life, my wife, my partner and everything,” Griffith said. “To lose her was devastating, but I have people that are still at my side today that help the best they can.”

Haro, who was a nurse practitioner at Valley Children’s Hospital, was painfully aware of what was to come when she was diagnosed over 15 years ago with multiple sclerosis. The disabling disease damages nerves, affecting how information is transmitted within the brain and from the brain to the body, resulting in issues with mobility and body functions.

It was a cruel diagnosis for the active woman and avid cyclist, also a breast cancer survivor. Still, she kept riding with Griffith, whom she first met on a cycling team to raise money for a boy with leukemia.

A photograph of Bill Griffith, left, riding alongside his wife Alicia Haro during the Lighthouse Century. Alicia, who had MS, died in 2016. Special to The Bee

Griffith was in awe of what his wife was able to do in spite of the debilitating disease. She was “fearless” – a woman who once rode an extra 30 miles while bloodied after being knocked into a ditch, and who never once walked over 15,000 brutal mountainous feet of elevation gain during the 155-mile Climb to Kaiser ride.

Few people knew Haro did all that with MS. It wasn’t something she wanted people to know. She told Griffith not to tell people about her disease. If she wanted to share it with someone, she would.

Griffith said now it’s his turn to talk about his wife’s strength and courage in the face of MS.

Bill Griffith rode a tandem bicycle often with his wife Alicia Haro, until she died of MS. He rode the bike with his wife’s seat empty after she died. Photographed Tuesday, March 19, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

The disease progressed in the final years of Haro’s life. She stopped her bike one day in tears while training for an upcoming ride because she couldn’t feel her hands. Her greatest concern was that her failing body might end up harming another cyclist around her, causing them to fall.

She stopped riding her road bike and started exclusively tandem cycling with her husband, who sat in the front seat of their shared bike.

Griffith remembers her as a fun, classy, natural beauty, and “everything she did was colorful.”

Alicia Haro, in a photograph courtesy of her husband Bill Griffith. After Alicia died, Bill rode the couple’s tandem bicycle in a benefit bike ride to fight MS, leaving Alicia’s rear seat empty in her memory. Special to The Bee

He said she taught him to think of others more and help people. Griffith hopes to do just that with his MS charity ride this month, also Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Donations to Friends of Alicia, which has raised more than $8,000 this year, can be made online at nationalmssociety.org.

In Fresno, an MS Walk is planned for March 30.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

Griffith wants his wife’s story to inspire people to take care of themselves, pursue their interests and new things, and “keep going.”

“Just live, that’s what she taught us,” he said. “Live.”

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.