Since 2000, the Fairfax County Police Department has been organizing a mountain bike competition featuring participants representing various law enforcement agencies across the country, to raise money for the Inova Regional Trauma Center's pediatric unit.
"Bicyclists and police go together. When we're on bikes kids are drawn to us," said Lt. Jim Redfield, with Fairfax County Police Department and the event's coordinator. "We felt we needed to raise awareness of safety issues, and raise money for the pediatric unit."
Last year's event was scheduled for Sept. 22 and because of the terrorist attacks 11 days earlier, the turn out was not as good as the year before.
"A lot of the officers couldn't come because they had been assigned with other duties as a result of the attacks," said Redfield. "We had the event anyway, but felt we needed to do more."
So this year, Redfield, in cooperation with Inova Health Systems, planned the Ride to Remember, 250-mile trek from New York to the Pentagon. The funds raised by the one-time event will benefit the entire trauma center, the only Level I trauma center in Northern Virginia. Each rider had to raise at least $500.
"We invited the racers from last year, but it really started by word of mouth," Redfield said of the response. "We've raised $300,000 at this point."
Saturday morning 200 riders consisting of approximately 130 to 140 law enforcement officers, 50 Inova staffers and the remainder made up of military and fire and rescue personnel boarded four charter busses headed for New York. The riders began the trip Sunday morning at Battery Park, near Ground Zero, and are expected to arrive at the Pentagon Sept. 11.
"I'M PROUD to say I was the first person to sign up for this," said Dr. Samir Fakhry, chief of trauma services at the Inova Regional Trauma Center, located at Inova Fairfax Hospital. "The police came to me and proposed this idea. The police have been involved in fund-raising for the last two years. This year, they said they had an idea that was much more substantial, biking from New York to the Pentagon, in memory of those who lost their lives."
The funds raised through the ride will be used for research and injury prevention programs.
Redfield said the ride has drawn participants not only from most of the local jurisdictions, but from across the country.
Officer Peter Sheldon is one of 13 Metropolitan Police Department personnel making the trip. Sheldon is making the trip in honor of family. His uncle, Paul Jurgens, an officer with the New York Port Authority, and his cousin Tom Jurgens, an officer with the New York Office of Court Administration, were both killed in the attacks. Sheldon had a riding shirt made depicting the Twin Towers with his uncle's photo in the corner.
By contrast, Capt. Keith Cross, one of eight people representing the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department, got involved when his girlfriend, Nancy Kane, a staffer with the fire department's Occupational Heath Care Center, was invited to take part.
"My girlfriend got me into biking and I thought it was a good thing to do," Cross said.
"I didn't need to persuade him," Kane said. "We did a Century [a 100-mile bike race] last week and we bike about 150 miles each week."
WHILE IN MANY CASES, the law enforcement officers are assigned to their unit's bike patrol, for the Inova staff, the prospect of biking 250 miles meant getting into shape and getting the right equipment.
"I bought a bike and got a personnel trainer. I spent two days a week with the personnel trainer and my husband and I rode our bikes every weekend. I started with 10 miles, getting up to 70 miles," said Jolene Tornabeni, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Inova Health Systems.
The riders were to be biking 65 miles the first two days, followed by a 75-mile, uphill trip that brought them to Baltimore the third day and then a final 45 miles to the Pentagon. The riders will be accompanied by police escort from each local jurisdiction they pass through various cities and towns.
"We don't want this to be a race; the ride represents solidarity. My concern is though, we have 200 people who have never rode together before. It's hard to imagine police and doctors getting into trouble, but I do expect minor injuries," Fakhry said.
A volunteer medic unit will be traveling with the riders, as will a support team including volunteers from the Bicycle Lane in Burke, and Interstate provided the tractor trailers and drivers to get the bicycles and other supplies to New York. Along the way, various hotels have agreed to provide rooms at a discounted rate or at no charge.
"I'm really pumped. I've been getting ready for about 120 days with the excitement building each day," said Dave Wright, vice president of marketing for Inova Health Systems, while waiting to board a bus. "This is pretty phenomenal and will have an impact on me for the rest of my life."