America Supports You: Cyclists End Fifth 9/11 'Tour de Force' at Pentagon
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2006 On a day filled with events across the country commemorating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a group of 94 bicyclists marked the occasion in their own way, by completing a 272-mile journey from Ground Zero in New York City to the Pentagon here.
Bicyclists of the fifth 9/11 "Tour de Force" ride pull into a Pentagon parking lot Sept. 11, upon finishing their 272-mile journey from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. They left New York Sept. 8. The riders were mostly members of the New York City Police Department. Police officers from other cities and states joined in the ride, as did firefighters and paramedics. The ride raised more than $50,000 for the NYPD Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund and helped honor those who lost their lives during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Photo by John Valceanu
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dubbed the "Tour de Force," the annual ride was organized in 2002 as a way to keep the memory of the attacks alive, and it also serves to raise money for the New York Police Department Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund, which helps family members of NYPD officers killed in the line of duty, according to this year's ride organizer Mike DePaolis.
"This ride keeps the memories alive for a lot of people," DePaolis said. "Remembering this day has got to be hard for family members who lost loved ones, but this event shows that people care and want to help."
DePaolis said he estimates that the riders raised around $50,000 this year to help families of slain officers. Though most of the funds go to help NYPD families, this year the riders have also made donations of $3,000 each to the families of Steve Gaughan, a police officer from Prince William County, Md., who was killed in June 2005, and Henry Prendes, a Las Vegas policeman killed in February of this year.
DePaolis said the dual mission of keeping the memories of the attack alive and helping police families are what keeps him motivated to ride. His brother Robert, who retired from the force in 2005 but rode this year, originally started the ride. The DePaolis' father, Larry, also a retired police officer, accompanied his sons on the rides, but rode in the support vehicles.
"This is my fifth year riding, and I'm going to keep doing it until I can't ride a bicycle anymore. As long as I can ride, I'm never going to get tired of it," DePaolis said. "There's a lot of camaraderie between us."
This year's riders included police officers, firefighters and paramedics from other cities and states, including Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey and Virginia. There was even a contingent from Toronto, Canada.
"9/11 was internationally felt; it went way beyond our borders," said Suzanne Walsh, a Toronto police officer. "Being part of this ride allowed us to support our brothers and sisters in the U.S."
Walsh was joined in the ride by Tracey Finlay, who works in the victim-services section of the Toronto Police Department. Finlay said the Tour de Force gave her an opportunity to bond with American riders.
"I was very moved by the experience of hearing people's stories and finding out about their first-hand experiences at the World Trade Center," Finlay said. "From the beginning, and I mean from the time of the attacks themselves, when I was a police officer in Toronto, I felt a very strong sense of connection with the police officers at the scene of the attacks. "
Pat Hedderson is another officer who said the ride helped her connect with fellow officers and with the events of Sept. 11.
"The ride gives us a sense of connecting the two cities (New York and Washington) in a positive way," Hedderson said. "A highlight of the ride for me was the Police Memorial in D.C., which is very impressive. So were the monuments -- the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Monument -- and the Pentagon. These are symbols of America."
And Americans came together during the ride. It didn't matter if they were from New York or D.C., Virginia or Las Vegas, said John Mahoney, a paramedic from the northern New York City suburbs, who helped organize this year's Tour de Force.
"It was a real joining of brotherhoods," Mahoney said. "Everybody's here for the same reason: to help remember what happened that day. For many of us, it's a way of remembering the friends we lost there."
For Barbara Salvadore, the ride was a way to honor her brother, Lt. Peter Freund and her cousin, Timothy McSweeney, both New York firefighters killed at the World Trade Center. She rode with her husband, Peter, a New Jersey State Police lieutenant; her brother-in-law, Walter; and brother, Charles Freund.
"I haven't spent this much time with my brother since high school. The ride really brought us together," Salvadore said. "When I heard about the ride I knew it would be a great way to honor my brother and my cousin."
Francis Cotter, a police officer from Secaucus, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, said that he and the other riders rode in memory of friends and family who were lost in the attacks.
"Working so close to Ground Zero, I wanted to be able to do something to help. We get to raise money for a good cause. There are kids out there who lost their parents. There are families that need help," Cotter said. "I'm here, and I'm able to do this. A lot of people aren't. This is our way of giving back."