Off to the side of a curving stretch of State Road 37, the pale, white bicycle leans against a street sign.

Flowers are wrapped around its handlebars and seat. On the front wheel, a sign commemorates Erika Diane Wells and her life.

Wells was killed near that spot just north of County Line Road on Oct. 12, when a semi veered off the road and struck her while she was riding her bicycle. The “ghost bike” was erected by Wells’ friends in the cycling community, a physical reminder of a life lost.

But whether at the many running and cycling events she volunteered with, at Rhoades Elementary School where she taught kindergarten, or Mount Pleasant Christian Church where she was an active member, her spirit of selflessness and service will continue to inspire people.

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“She was such a hopeful person,” said Chrissy Vasquez, a friend of Wells’. “She was always so positive, even in negative situations, and the first one to jump in and encourage people.”

“She impacted people in ways she never could have imagined. She’ll be missed.”

Wells was 38 when she died. Originally from Spencer, she had made her home on the southside.

She started teaching at Rhoades Elementary School, located on the southwest side of Indianapolis, as soon as she graduated from college, and had been there for the past 15 years.

She was the ideal colleague, someone who never complained and was always available to help on a project, said Karen Boatright, principal at Rhoades.

“I never heard a negative word come out of her mouth,” Boatright said. “Erika was there to do a job. If you needed a volunteer, she was always there.”

Wells was the coordinator for the school’s Relay for Life team, and was a supporter of the school’s Girls on the Run program. Helping female students build self confidence and athleticism through running fit directly into her mindset.

“She helped to get them active, and see if there was any kind of passion for running,” Boatright said. “They’d set a goal of a 5K, and that would be the final activity of the year.”

Wells had learned the importance of physical fitness, and together with her faith, made it the cornerstone of her own life.

She was a member of Mount Pleasant Christian Church, and was active in the wellness ministry there.

Penny Clayton, wellness director for the church, had become close with Wells through the many classes and activities they had worked together.

Wells helped establish the church’s More Than Finishing mini marathon training. She taught a popular boot camp program for many years, and wrote moving devotionals for the start of each class that tied in the participants’ fitness goals with their faith.

They also were close through a women’s small group that Clayton led for the church. Clayton remembers Wells as a supremely giving person, taking particular interest in helping a pair of single mothers through the group’s outreach efforts.

“Erika had a huge heart and was kind, humble and generous,” Clayton said. “I know that Erika had her own heartaches and struggles but she never complained or shared those struggles with most people. She served with all her heart and thought of others above herself.”

Wells ran many marathons and triathlons, and was well-known within the cycling and running communities.

When Alice Dollens moved to Indianapolis in 2010, Wells was one of the first people she met. They were both taking part in a Saturday run of the Indy Runners club, and found themselves pacing each other.

Even from that first meeting, Wells treated her like a friend.

“More times than that, I found myself running with Erika. Our friendship grew from there,” Dollens said.

Since that initial meeting, Dollens and Wells had done numerous Indy Runner races together. One of their favorite things to do was to help with running-related events throughout the community.

Donating her time was very important to Wells, Dollens said.

“She loved volunteering in every aspect of her life, whether that was church or running or cycling,” she said. “She made everyone her friend. She was such a positive person, a joy to be around. I never saw her upset, and she always had something positive to say about everybody.”

As much as Wells’ loved fitness for her own benefit, she also loved encouraging others.

She had volunteered for many years with Back on my Feet, a nonprofit organization that uses running as a gateway to help the homeless and near-homeless get job training, education and housing resources.

After her death, some of the people that she helped posted their memories of her on the Back on my Feet Facebook page.

“She could run like the wind and hold conversations with you and have you at ease the entire time. She progressed to the next level with her athletics but she stayed humble, how rare,” said one alumni of the program.

Another member wrote, “She helped me train for my first marathon. I hope she knows how special she is to me.”

Vasquez and Wells were volunteers together for Back on my Feet, before Vasquez became executive director.

At the time, Vasquez was training for an Ironman triathlon. Wells had just finished her first Ironman-distance race, and they talked about the race.

As a token of encouragement, Wells gave her a gift — a refrigerator magnet she made herself, using a four-leaf clover she found.

“She loved four-leaf clovers, so she found one and put it in a magnet that said, ‘Believe You Can Do This,” Vasquez said. “That was really sweet; it’s still on my refrigerator.”

Another time, they were both participating in the RAINSTORM, a nearly 700-mile bicycle race weaving through southern and central Indiana.

On one of the legs, Vasquez was feeling poorly and decided to stop early. She was picked up by the race organizers and was on her way back to the meeting point for the day.

They stopped for ice cream on the way, and while they were there, Wells and another rider came by. They also stopped, to convince Vasquez to try and finish the day on her bike.

“She said that I’d feel better if I finished the day out, and invited me to ride the last 10 miles with them,” Vasquez said. “That meant a lot to me. It was really considerate of them to stop for me.”

Wells’ death has impacted the cycling community particularly hard.

The memorial on State Road 37 had been put up by Bicycle Indiana, a community group promoting bicycle safety and awareness. While the goal was to remember Wells and what she meant to them, they also wanted a visible reminder to motorists about the importance of sharing the road with bicycles.

“Erika was well-known in the cycling community. She was such a great person, with her teaching and her nonprofit volunteer work she did,” said Nancy Tibbett, the director of Bicycle Indiana. “We continue to see cycling deaths that involve a collision with motor vehicles. Since we felt we needed to bring attention to it, we’ve been working on more opportunities to bring that awareness forward.”

The site of Wells’ accident will be part of an upcoming memorial cycle ride on Nov. 6. Friends and supporters will take a short, silent ride in Wells’ honor along State Road 37.

Organizers hope to use it to drive home the importance of sharing the road.

“It’s horrible that this keeps happening. There are no words to tell you how we feel about it,” Tibbett said. “Numbers are up not just in Indiana, but around the country.”

If you go

Honoring Erika Wells

What: A memorial ride of silence in remembrance of Wells, a southside Indianapolis resident who was struck and killed on State Road 37 while riding her bicycle.

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Nov. 6

Where: The starting point will be Glenns Valley Elementary School, 8239 Morgantown Road, Indianapolis.

Route: The ride will be short and run at a pace of about 10 to 12 mph. Riders will pass the spot where Wells was killed on State Road 37.

Who: Organized by Bicycle Indiana, a community group promoting safe bicycling. All are welcome to participate. Helmets are mandatory.

Memorial service: A memorial service for Wells will be at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 at Mount Pleasant Christian Church, 381 N. Bluff Road, Greenwood. Visitation will be from 1 to 2 p.m.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.