More than 260 miles. Four days. One good cause.
Four Rock Hill Police officers are joining nearly 200 law enforcement officers from across the country and even abroad who are riding bicycles from the Pentagon to ground zero in New York in honor of police officers who died in the line of duty.
The ride starts today in remembrance of those officers who died in Sept. 11, 2001.
Will Rivera, Michael Chavis, Tony Breeden and Chris Crowder are all members of Rock Hill Police's SWAT team. While Rivera said he and his fellow officers are active and in good shape, none of the four have ever biked long distance. In fact, Rivera said he had to buy a bike just for the ride.
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"I think it's a great thing; it will build a lot of memories," said Rivera, who has been a Rock Hill Police officer for eight years. "It's a huge privilege to ride, raising awareness about officers killed. Reminding people to stop and take time out of their day to remember these families."
These officers are the first from South Carolina to participate in the Tour-de-Force.
The tour began in 2002 when NYPD Detective Robert De Paolis cycled the distance with nine other officers. It's evolved into four-day annual event with around 200 riders and supporters making the trek. The tour both honors victims of Sept. 11 by keeping their memory alive through cycling events and raises funds to benefit the families of police officers killed in the line of duty each year nationwide, according to the event's website.
New Jersey native Rivera said his motivation to buy a bike and train for months comes from a friend who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Donald Adams. His brother and Rivera's friend, Dwight Adams, rode in the Tour-de-Force last year in Donald's honor.
"This will be Dwight Adams' second year riding. I learned about it through him," Rivera said. "I thought I'd love to be a part of it this year. I think it's very emotional for me having a friend who was killed in the World Trade Center attacks."
Rivera was serving active duty in Marine Corps during those attacks. So was Dwight Adams, he said.
"It really shook the foundation of the whole nation," he said. "When I found out Dwight's brother was killed, it was one the first things that hit me. It's one thing to attack the nation; it's another to find out someone you know was killed."
To participate, each officer must raise $1,000, a hurdle all four from Rock Hill cleared. All of the money raised, about $500,000 annually, goes to families of officers who die in the line of duty.
In order to prepare for this ride, Rivera said officers started training in February. Rivera said he had to first research the type of bike to buy.
"I knew nothing about cycling until I started getting into this," he said. "I'm actually super excited. It's going to be a long ride, but a fun one with officers from around the globe. Having an opportunity is huge.
"It's a matter of the desire to do the training. We're all in good shape being on SWAT, but no one was in any sort of shape to ride 20, 30-plus miles when we started."
They trained through countless rides, averaging about 40 to 50 miles a pop. The longest training run Rivera's taken is 55, he said, and that's about half what he'll be riding today.
This year's ride starts today at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., with more than 100-mile journey. Sunday is a 85-mile ride along the New Jersey coast. Monday the bicyclists will ride 55 miles through northern New Jersey.
They end with a 20-mile group ride Tuesday to the World Trade Center site in New York City and the NYPD Memorial.
The first couple of officers Rivera approached to ride with him said they'd donate but declined the ride. Then fellow members of the SWAT team stepped up.
"It's not really something you can convince someone one to do," he said. "It's certainly a huge thing to dedicate yourself to. But it's for a great cause."
Even with all the training these Rock Hill officers put in for the journey, Rivera joked: "We'll probably be limping all the way back."