An Epic Finish (Day Ninety-Five)
And so our journey comes to the end, but our cause has just begun. You will not have heard the last of us now, but the riding was set to conclude on Day Ninety-Five, and we’ve met all deadlines aong the 4,200 mile stretch. All of them. At the beginning, it was about a sense of duty, and a commitment that held the test of time. It was about a sacrifice that was very rare indeed, and about the bravery that accompanied these things. In the end, it became a legend of promise, and a bond between two soldiers. Ironically, our journey would start at a place representative of the promise, and it would end at the place it all began, where the call to duty was heard and acted upon by my friend, Kevin Mincio. Before the day began on 9/11/11, we were hosted the day before in Norwalk CT at O’Neill’s Pub by Co-Founder Matt Corry. It was in this place that we were shown an unprecedented display of community support, as several elected officials gathered alongside Matt’s friends from the lacrosse community and family. We were given declarations and the keys to the city, but most of all we were given love and support. A few people we didn’t know and who were not part of the event recognized our faces from a news story that ran nationally, so the community grew right in front of our eyes. The event was very successful from a fundraising standpoint, and our cause gained momentum at a critical time. Ninety-Five would be an emotional day, and it would wait for no one. In fact, to meet our day’s commitments, we needed to get an early start on the course. We’ve always had a policy that we don’t ride in the dark, but on this day there was just no getting around it. We woke at 4:45am and were on the road at 5:30. We were donning headlamps and flashlights to see as we slipped through the darkness with chilly water spraying up from the bumpy blacktop. We were on the Saw Mill River Parkway, and it was very exciting to be taking this route, and under these conditions. It was unique from any other ride and also very different from the past Ninety-Four. A passing car once ran over an already dead raccoon, and we were nearly sprayed; instead, the support vehicle driven by Messick and carrying Cathy Mabee and Heather, Kevin’s wife took the bloody exchange. We rode hard, knowing that any slip-ups would set us back and compromise the entire schedule.
As it started to get light, after riding for almost 90 minutes, we entered the outskirts of the city, seeing it in a unique way. Recent terror threats as well as the population’s memory of a terrible day ten years before had those we passed in a vulnerable-feeling position. While they were strong as New Yorkers are known for being, there was an uncertainty in the air. It felt great to be doing something about it, however small it would be. As far as the terror threats and their affect, Kevin was heard to say that he’d ride his bike right through a bomb blast if he had to do so. The guy likes to keep his promises, apparently. I’m grateful that it was getting light out when we rode on the Major Deegan Expressway. Talk about hairy and scary! It was still not the best visibility, though, and we had to change lanes several times to avoid cars in on and off ramps while traveling at 50-60 MPH. This part of the course was further complicated by the rise and fall of the highway; it was an overpass to many intersections, and as such, was not the flat, safe stretch that other full-on highways can be. Without the SAG, I’m not sure we would have made it safely. Once, the SAG itself almost got smeared into the barrier by an accelerating, merging dump truck. It was dangerous, period. We pedaled hard and got off as soon as we could, but still had to go past 5 exits (which means on-ramps as well) in doing so.
When we spun off and made our way onto the 3rd Avenue Bridge, we were in Manhattan. It felt great to arrive, though our day was just beginning. And we had many appointments to keep. The first such appointment involved us getting to Randall’s Island. Our hearts sunk when we got to the pedestrian bridge only to see that it was closed; we knew that there would be severe measures taken by the authorities to reduce the risk of terrorist activity, but we hadn’t seen this coming. So, we had not choice to turn around and give up. Do you think that’s what we did? No, actually, we just climbed the twelve-foot fence with our bikes and kept going. We weren’t going to be stopped, and I guess that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
At last we arrived at our first of two engagements for the day. We were going to meet a large group at the 9/11 Heroes Run, a 5K race hosted by our trusted partner, The Travis Manion Foundation. We had been looking forward to this day for a long time, and we were honored by doing a lap on our bikes around the track that served as the starting and finish line of the race’s loop. Our cause was announced and I couldn’t have been any more proud to see the support from the large crowd of runners as well as to see the looks of friends and loved ones that had come out to support us. After our lap, we ditched the bikes to the side, were given race numbers 001 and 002 and ran the 5K. Looking back, I think that they wanted us to start the race by being out front, but we instead got caught in the emotion of the moment and ran with the crew that had assembled to support us, all of them wearing their Team Jesse shirts with the exception of Kevin Higman, the president and COO of Team Jesse Sponsor Wimmer Solutions, who was asked to wear a shirt bearing our logo. Without Kevin’s support and that of the rest of our fantastic team at Wimmer, there’s no way I would have been able to accompany Kevin this summer. Thanks so much, gang, for allowing me to help and also giving me the opportunity for a life-changing experience!
We finished together, and we were all teeth, the entire crew giddy with the response from the event promoters and other races. At the end, I saw a few faces in the crowd that I didn’t know had shown up, all the way from Seattle, to support the mission and surprise me. I couldn’t have been happier, and the people we’re talking about have been quite influential in my life. They really gave me a charge, not that I was short on emotion that day (or very often, for that matter). We then said our goodbyes and headed out, again scaling the fence with our bikes to exit. After some logistical haggling, we began to set out toward Ground Zero and the cross-streets of Liberty and Church, where Kevin Mincio stood in shock ten years ago, and subsequently sprung into legendary action. As we approached, it was really dawning on us that the trip was coming to an end. I’m very grateful that the end wasn’t anti-climactic, as I feared that maybe it would be. With only a few blocks to go, we saw Matt Corry and Darren Tappen on the street. Just happened to run into the very people that would be helpful for Kevin to see as he made the final stab toward the goal. As we were ahead of schedule, we agreed to pull over and get our bearings before taking the final pedal strokes. It was touching that Kevin realized that he would be incomplete without his brother, Matt, present as well. Matt was with Kevin on 9/11/01 and together they had eventually made their way out of Manhattan, both changed forever. We chose a venue called The Irish American to stop, and we regrouped, made a quick toast, and headed down to complete the mission. By the way, I’ve always thought that Matt had a really cool name. However, the security detail had strict orders to prevent penetration into the areas that would be most relevant to Kevin as well as Matt. So, with 16 of our friends and family there to support the final thrust, we were thwarted by rules imposed by the recent threats. So, we gave up and turned around, content with the bare minimum of effort. Do you think that’s what we did? Well, no, that’s NOT what we did. With Kevin’s determination fueling Matt Corry’s (another guy with a cool name, BTW) keen resourcefulness, we were able to make someone want to help us, and we were soon guided back to the exact spot where Kevin was ten years ago. Not only that, but we were taken into the heart of the new memorial, which had been reserved for families of 9/11 victims and VIPs. Upon our entrance, we were stopped by the mother of Christopher Santora, a firefighter who bravely fought to save lives before losing his life as the towers collapsed. She asked us if she could shake our hands, and had accosted us because she’s seen the story on the news. I was very humbled that she would be asking me for this, as it was she and her husband and daughter that had suffered the loss ten years ago, and every day since. It was an iconic validation to our summer’s mission, and none will never forget it. While The Ride is over, and finished in successful fashion, our work is just beginning. It’s comes with great promise that, in the end, Kevin Mincio was happy with the outcome and is finally calm and relaxed. He will stay that way for at least a few hours, or until the next opportunity to show commitment for the Families of the Fallen. After all, this guy takes his promises pretty seriously. I can’t be grateful enough to have been allowed to play a small part in The Ride, and I, like the others that have supported Kevin through thick and thin, are proud to have done so.
For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit!
Care Creates Community,