OAKLAND -- Rosie Kreidler speaks proudly of her 1964 Olympic glory, in which gold might've been hers but for a backward glance.

She speaks proudly of her nursing career, in which she cared for others until a car crash left her unable to continue.

Jobless, recently homeless and just shy of 62, she uses meager public support to keep a roof over her head and a little food in her belly while using every extra breath to speak proudly on behalf of homeless seniors. She tells anyone who'll listen: What happened to her could happen to anybody.

Yet until this week her pride kept her from speaking a word to her own family about having spent months living in her car on Oakland's streets, and then months more on a homeless shelter's cot.

She never even told her beloved nephew here in the Bay Area. His name is Barry Bonds, and he's the San Francisco Giants' left-fielder now nearing baseball's all-time home-run record even as he's beset by doping allegations. His $22 million salary in 2005 made him the second-highest paid player in Major League Baseball.

"If he knew, he would help... but it's hard. Maybe I'm nuts," she said Monday, startled that a reporter had discovered they are related. "He's just like his father, he will do anything for you if you ask him. If he knew about this he'd be mad at me (for not telling him)... but I don't want him to know."

With the news about to get out, she said she'd finally talked Thursday with her sister-in-law -- Barry's mother -- Pat. A reporter's calls to Barry Bonds' publicist weren't returned Friday.

Being honest about this with her family isn't easy, she'd said earlier in the week.

"This is the first time in my life I haven't been able to handle it by myself... Rosie has always been there for everybody else and I'm supposed to be the strong one. I don't want that image lost. I still want them to know I'm strong."

She doesn't seem to realize how strong she seems to those around her.

At St. Mary's Center, the social-services agency at 22nd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way which sheltered her from the streets, she's greeted and often embraced by everyone she meets, staff and fellow clients alike. Rosie Kreidler has become a fixture there, part of a new family of destitute seniors ignored by society.

This is the family she wants to publicize.

She testified last Saturday at a public hearing and "truth commission" meeting on Alameda County's health care crisis, recounting how a mountain of medical debt left her unable to work and, ultimately, homeless. Now, $300 of her $336 in monthly General Assistance pays rent on her tiny place in a downtown Oakland building for low-income seniors.

She went to Sacramento recently with local food-bank officials to lobby lawmakers for better benefits for seniors; she's going again this week. She gets $91 a month -- about $3 per day -- in food stamps. "I have $1.19 to get me through until April 3," she said Monday.

And a New York City snowstorm thwarted a February trip with St. Mary's Center Executive Director Carol Johnson to testify at a United Nations conference on eradication of poverty. She still has a copy of the statement she'd planned to make there.

She's done all this under her married name, Kreidler, despite having been divorced for decades and having gone by "Rosie Bonds" in news articles about her nephew as recently as 2004. That's not the kind of notice she wants now; even her St. Mary's caseworker didn't know until this week.

"This is I think where God wants me to be, helping homeless seniors," Kreidler said. "With God's help, I think I'll weather this."

Family of champions

Born July 7, 1944, in Riverside, Rosie Bonds Kreidler hails from a family of champions.

Her brother Bobby's renowned strength and speed brought him nearly 400 home runs and more than 400 stolen bases during 14 Major League Baseball seasons, including seven with the Giants. He died of cancer in August 2003 at age 57, but not before seeing his son become one of the game's most famed names.

Another brother, Robert, was a high school track-and-field state meet champion who played football at San Jose State University and professionally in Canada. Living in Morro Bay after retiring from the faculty of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, he's not in great health, his sister said.

Rosie Bonds in 1964 was a rarity -- an African-American woman at the top of her sport as the U.S. women's 80-meter hurdling champion for two consecutive years -- when she tried out for the Olympic team. When she couldn't afford airfare to the trials in New York, singer Ray Charles flew her there on his own plane; lacking hotel money, she slept in the stadium. She was the women's hurdling champion at the trials.

On Oct. 18, 1964 -- less than three months after her nephew Barry's birth -- she finished first in the Tokyo Summer Olympics women's 80-meter hurdles' first round, fourth heat at 10.6 seconds. In a semifinal the next day, she finished fourth at 10.8 seconds.

In the final, running in the first lane and leading at mid-race, she glanced back and to the right to gauge her rivals. She hit the final hurdle and came in eighth at 10.8 seconds; she retired from track two years later at age 22.

This athletic pedigree is part of why she insists her nephew wouldn't have intentionally taken performance-enhancing drugs. "I don't think, given our family's DNA and physiology, that we need enhancers," she said, calling Barry Bonds a dedicated, consummate athlete as well as a caring role model and philanthropist who's been unfairly pilloried by the media.

She became a licensed vocational nurse _ her license remains active _ working in trauma, medical/surgical, transitional care and other settings.

Divorced, she raised her daughter largely on her own.

By 2002, she was shuttling back and forth between the Bay Area, where she had steady work through a nursing registry, and Riverside, where she helped care for her mother, now about 92. She'd applied to Doctors Without Borders for work in the Congo.

But while on vacation in New Mexico with her friend and her grandson, their car was rear-ended at high speed by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 40. The car rolled several times; all survived, but she suffered broken ribs, back and neck injuries and other damage.

"Never ever would I wish this on my worst enemy," she said.

Career-ending disability

At her brother's 2003 funeral, she said, Giants managing general partner owner Peter Magowan saw her wearing a neck brace and using a walker, and asked her if there was anything he could do to help; she declined.

Having been released from a hospital into physical therapy, she battled with insurers to cover her treatment. About $50,000 in coverage ran out fast, as did her savings; her 18 months of physical therapy ended when the money did, not because she'd recovered. Her Social Security Disability Insurance application was rejected; she challenged the rejection in court and lost.

Eager to get back to work both because she loved nursing and in desperation to pay her mounting bills, she returned to the Bay Area in 2005. But constant pain made bending or lifting impossible, and numbness in her hands prevented her from drawing blood or inserting an IV.

Her career as she'd known it was over. Destitute and unable to earn, too proud to turn to her family or friends for help, she soon was sleeping in her car.

Someone eventually told her about St. Mary's Center, where she occupied a cot for a few months while seeking General Assistance and other aid. She still spent 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the streets in a rough part of town: "I found for seniors it's very dangerous. People will come up and ask you for things or try to take things from you, or bully you... It's a constant fear."

"Once something like this happens to you, it's like the end of your life... Your life changes and it's all something new," she said.

A daily struggle

A busy life and satisfying career had become a daily struggle for shelter, food, clothes and safety, and getting public aid proved to be "the merry-go-round of all merry-go-rounds" with months of paperwork and waiting before she got a dime.

On General Assistance, she was able to rent a room in a transitory housing facility on San Pablo Avenue. From there, she moved this week to a studio apartment in another Oakland facility for low-income seniors.

St. Mary's has set her up with legal aid to renew her SSDI application.

Until she gets it, she can't get state Medi-Cal coverage, so for now she gets her prescriptions from a Berkeley clinic. She parcels out every penny worth of food stamps to ensure she can eat, but lacks enough for proper nutrition and so recently discovered she's borderline diabetic.

"I never thought that hopelessness could be this terrifying," she said. "I always thought this country would provide social security if you needed it. But I find these to be just words."

Yet the hopelessness has abated as her caseworker, Sister Mary Nolan, helped her secure benefits and the apartment in which she now lives. In return, she has focused her formidable will upon helping St. Mary's Center serve others like herself, and upon ensuring the public can't ignore them.

"The first thing that strikes someone is her fierce determination to be independent, and also that she is willing and wanting to reach out and help other people whom she sees suffering similar situations to hers," said center director Johnson.

St. Mary's needs millions to move to a new site this year, and Kreidler on Monday clutched a stack of donation envelopes she intended to hand out. She said she was tempted to finally do for the agency what pride had kept her from doing for herself -- asking Magowan's aid.

"There's trust and love in here and they give you hope, some kind of hope that it's going to get better," she said. "That, to me, is what life is all about -- to care, to support, to help. If we don't do that, why are we all here? We're all interconnected."

Yet she balked at first when encouraged to tell her family about what befell her.

Her grandson, also in the car crash and now 11, is the light of her life. When he and his mother came up from the Modesto area to visit last year, St. Mary's staff managed to set her up somewhere else for a few days so they wouldn't know she was sleeping at the shelter.

"I want him to look at me like I'm not broken down and old," she said, but instead like the grandma who used to take him fishing, bicycling and on other adventures. "I want him to think of me and remember me that way."

She'd like to be able to give him a copy of the film of her 1964 race.

"He's a tremendous golfer, he's going to be another Tiger Woods... I want him to know that, 'If I can do this, you can do anything.' "

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.

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St. Mary's Center reaching out

St. Mary's Center has made a huge difference in Rosie Kreidler's life.

But after a dozen years of serving Oakland's needy from its building at 22nd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the independent nonprofit agency has seen its land sold out from under it. The lease is up at the end of June, and might or might not be extended.

Executive Director Carol Johnson said the agency -- which not only helps homeless seniors but also provides a preschool program, community services and groceries for low-income families -- is in contract to buy a nearby property on 27th Street, but "it's going to need some significant rehabilitation. We're not clear at this point how this is all going to happen, but were determined that it will."

A $10 million capital campaign launched last year has raised about $600,000 in pledges and gifts so far, and now is reaching out to philanthropies and government agencies for help.

To help St. Mary's Center, send donations to 635 22nd St. Oakland, CA 94612. Call Johnson at (510) 893-4723, ext.201 or go to www.stmaryscenter.org for more information.