WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Andrew Welker has spent years working out on the way to his workout, riding his bike in heat and snow about a mile and a half to the gym.
His mom Liz said it isn’t always easy for him to make friends.
But one exception is the Warwick Avenue Planet Fitness, where Andrew finds peace, even singing a bit as he sweats through his sets.
“He makes friends very easily here,” she said. “Which has been wonderful because he’s always had social difficulties.”
Over the years, the staff and his family have seen Andrew become an ambassador for anyone who might feel uneasy near his world.
“To help them understand that having any sort of difference can still make you a wonderful person to be around,” his mom explained. “They tell me he lights up the room when he comes here.”
Which he does all the time.
“Four times a week,” Andrew said. “[Since] 2013. Treadmill and bike machine and weight lifting.”
No one is sure when it happened.
“He didn’t tell me anything about the bike being broken,” his mom recalled.
But one day, Andrew showed up walking instead of riding his bike.
He went through his workout without a complaint, then walked the bike home.
“Next thing I knew, he came home with this bike and said, ‘Mikey bought me a bike,'” his mom said. “And I said, ‘who’s Mikey, and what’s this about a bike?'”
Mikey is assistant manager Michael Kelly, who was one of several employees who raised money to buy Andrew a new set of wheels.
“I almost started crying,” his mom said, adding she would’ve bought him a bike for his next birthday. “Just about people being kind and friendly and caring about him.”
“Amazing,” Andrew said when asked about his new bike.
“Apparently he’s affected their lives much the way he’s affected ours,” his mom said.
“For people to accept him completely for who he is and for him to know he can come here and be with his friends, has been a fantastic thing for him,” she added.
With that, Andrew pedaled home to a handful of goodbyes and fist bumps, a workout after his workout.