Cyclists Wind Up 270-Mile Ride at Pentagon
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2002 About 1,200 cyclists, including a Tour de France champion and the brother of the pilot whose plane hit the Pentagon, arrived at the military headquarters Sept. 22, completing a 270-mile ride from Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
For three days, about 600 men and 600 women from 42 states and 10 foreign countries united in sport to honor those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America. Riding in "Face of America 2002," they included firemen and police, about 200 service members and family members. The youngest cyclist was 10; the oldest 76.
In all, about 2,500 cyclists took part in the Face of America 2002 event organized by World TEAM Sports, a nonprofit organization with the motto "The Exceptional Athlete Matters." Based in Charlotte, N.C., the group promotes total inclusion and integration in sports, with a focus on people with disabilities.
The Face of America team included several amputees; two blind Kenyans -- victims of the 1998 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi -- riding the back seats of tandem bikes; a Norwegian disabled-rights activist; a Polish citizen who lost both his arms in a land-mine cleanup campaign following World War II; and a 13-person team of Israelis and Palestinians.
While some cyclists rode for a day, others made the full journey through New Jersey and Maryland, stopping at the Naval Academy Football Stadium in Annapolis prior to riding past the Capitol and crossing the finish line at the Pentagon's north parking lot.
Greg LeMond, a three-time Tour De France champion, was among the riders. "These riders are indeed the face of America, in all of its courage, compassion, color, creed and expression," he said in a press release prior to the event. "They ride to honor those who lost their lives in the last year's tragedy and to carry the beauty and produce of their lives into the future."
Mark Burlingame, a heart surgeon from Lancaster, Pa., rode to honor all those who died, but especially his brother, Capt. Charles Burlingame III, who piloted American Airlines Flight 77. Terrorists hijacked the flight and flew the plane into the Pentagon, killing 184 men, women and children.
Burlingame said he was proud to have been part of the team. "As a novice, I faced this ride with trepidation and high hopes, and I far exceeded what I thought I could accomplish." He said the physically challenged athletes that took part especially inspired him and he enjoyed hearing people's stories.
"Many of us came to honor the memory of family, friends and colleagues," Burlingame said. "I know that they were with us on this ride, especially those moments when we had to reach down for that last ounce of strength."
Burlingame said the riders are "the face of America. We come from all walks of life, young and old, all races and creeds. We embody the spirit of America. We have bonded in this ride in mind and body and made a powerful statement on behalf of all Americans and all friends of America.
"Terrorism will not stand," he declared. "We will not be broken. We will not forget and we will help rid the scourge of terrorism from the face of this earth."
Bob Graham of Arlington County Fire Department was also among the riders. He presented a plaque to some of the New York City firemen who made the ride. "We met a lot of really great people out there," he said, "but mostly, our brothers in the New York City Fire Department. We have never stopped thinking about them for the last year or so."
Dan Rowen, Ladder Co. 9, Engine 33, New York City Fire Department, said he helped put the ride together in memory of his fallen brothers. "I lost 51 of my best friends that day," he said, choking back tears, "and I rode for 51 of them. I could ride for all of you out there."
Noting the flag waving high atop an Arlington Country Fire Department truck extension, Rowen said, he was teary-eyed coming through the crowd and seeing the flag raised by brother firefighters. "Every one of you out there was saying, 'God bless America.' I want to see that forever."
Holding up a T-shirt displaying an American flag, Rowen said, "These colors here -- will never ever run."
A fireman from New York City's Ladder Co. 35, said he didn't bring a gift for the Arlington County firemen, so to the cyclists cheers, he gave them the shirt off his back.
"We lost 11 men on Sept. 11," he said, "and I had these bike jerseys made up with all the 11 guys' names on the back. I'd like to present them with this jersey that I rode in -- it's a little smelly, I apologize. But, I'm sure if you wash it and hang it up somewhere, it'll look nice. I'd also like to give them my helmet -- FDNY 9-11-01."
Charles Abell, assistant defense secretary for force management policy, welcomed the cyclists to the Pentagon and commended their effort. He said the ride exemplified America's "strength, resilience and hope."
"The brutal attacks of Sept. 11 were not just against famous buildings," he said. "The terrorists targeted the American people and our way of life. But people responded with courage, generosity and power."
Courageous Americans rescued victims in the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, he said. People gave clothes and food. "We lit candles, we said prayers and we comforted the distressed," he said. "We sang "God Bless America" and we waved flags everywhere, as I see today."
The defense official drew applause, cheers and whistles when he talked of the nation's heroes. "Hundreds of brave New York City fire and policemen lost their lives trying to save others," Abell said. "Our heroes in the military defeated the Taliban regime and their terrorist allies in Afghanistan."
He said the Defense Department was grateful for the cards, gifts, teddy bears and best wishes that poured into the damaged building after the attack.
"This lifted our spirits and helped make us well again," Abell concluded. "Today we're grateful to all of you for your strength, your physical fitness and your commitment to those we lost. God bless you, and God bless America."