Frank Rizzo woke up early Saturday, hopped on his bicycle and rode a mile for every year of his life.
If on first blush that doesnt sound like a particularly striking feat of physical endurance, consider this: Rizzo just turned 81.
He and a pack of riders traveled from The Shack at Winthrop Lake in Rock Hill to Filbert then Lowrys then back to Rock Hill. The trek took eight and a half hours and raised roughly $2,000 for an organization supporting military veterans seeking higher education.
The ride has become an annual ritual in celebration of Rizzos birthday. He started at 75.
I said, you know, its going to be a quarter of a century, I want to ride 75 miles, he said.
That year, 15 cyclists joined him. The pack has since grown to a consistent 30 riders. Last year, Rizzo linked the ride to the non-profit Student Veterans of Winthrop University, a group that advocates for veterans and their families attending the school.
Riders pay an entry fee which goes to the Student Veterans.
Its a big help, said President Michael Widrich, who founded the group three years ago.
A group of six or seven of us got together because we were frustrated with the benefits we were receiving, he said.
There are about 150 student veterans at Winthrop and 150 dependents of veterans, Widrich said. About 50 of them are regular, active members of the group.
The organizations most significant achievement was pushing Winthrop to take part in the Yellow Ribbon program, which gets veterans more financial aid through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Winthrop, over the last three years, has become much more military friendly, Widrich said.
The group has several goals for the future.
One is to raise $25,000 for a scholarship fund. That amount is enough to grant a $1,000 scholarship to a veteran each semester.
Widrich also hopes the organization can raise enough money to build a memorial on campus and create a student veteran resource center.
Rizzo is an Air Force veteran who served as a radio operator in the Korean war. Born in Brooklyn, he lived in New Jersey and California before moving to Rock Hill seven years ago, where he took a part-time job at Winthrop. He started as a janitor then moved to the information desk in the DiGiorgio Center.
When he first heard about the Student Veterans, he was eager to help.
I heard that one of these guys didnt have anything to eat, Rizzo said.
The avid cyclist said he aims raise as much money as he can for whatever they want to use it for.
If they want to buy bicycles, they can do that too, he said.
After each birthday ride, Rizzos wife Chris, friends and fellow riders hold a celebratory dinner. This years drew several sponsors and a jazz band.
Its all about eating and having fun, said Chris Rizzo.
During Saturdays dinner, a proclamation sent by Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols was read, lauding Rizzo for his contributions to the local cycling community and called him an inspiration to all citizens to pursue a healthy lifestyle.
Its absolutely incredible that the man is 81 years old and he can still ride 81 miles, he said. Its a true testament to his character not just as a man, but as a soldier. He never gives up.
How long does he intend to continue his birthday rides?
Until I cant go anymore, he said.
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072