Andrew Dys

February 26, 2013

Michigan man bicycling 8,500 miles against obesity passes through Rock Hill

Jerry Smith is riding a circuitous route from Michigan to California to raise awareness about childhood obesity. Smith, a youth pastor, was 420 pounds when he decided to ride America with another pastor, Mike Sode.

The across-America-and-then-some tour of bicycle rider Jerry Smith passed through York County Monday and Tuesday, as the youth pastor from Michigan – who once weighed 420 lbs. – continues to pedal across the country to raise awareness about childhood obesity.

Smith and another pastor, Mike Sode, both from Lansing, Mich., are in the midst of trying to ride through the 25 “fattest cities” in America.

“Pennsylvania was a nightmare,” said Smith. “Took us a month.”

The two men left Michigan in September and, after touring the Midwest, they hit the Northeast before turning south.

From Rock Hill, they are heading southwest to Atlanta, then will drop down to Florida before heading west to California. The plan is to finish “April-ish” at the location of “The Biggest Loser” television show – one of the inspirations for Smith’s ride.

“I was over 400 pounds and knew I had to do something,” he said.

Smith is now down to 268 lbs. and is still, well, pretty hefty.

“I had a long way to go,” he quipped, “in weight and on the bicycle.”

The trip is paid for wholly by donations – motel rooms often donated by generous innkeepers – and can be followed on Facebook at “2012 Catch on Tour.” The guys update the site daily using their cellphones.

Usually Sode, a lean and in-shape rider, drives the team’s donated minivan ahead and then rides back to Smith. Along the way, the men talk to reporters to drum up attention for the trip and help with fundraising.

In Rock Hill, many locals were generous to the team.

Hilton Garden Inn gave free lodging, CiCi’s Pizza fed them, a Rock Hill bike club filled the van’s gas tank, and the local military recruiter at the Rock Hill Galleria donated water bottles and tote bags.

“The trip is only possible through the generosity of the people we meet,” Smith said.

Other than a minor fender-bender with the van, the trip hasn’t run into any big problems. The main problem, Sode said, is drivers’ texting while driving.

“I see it every day, people texting when they should be looking at the road and the people on it – including us,” he said.

The goal of the trip is to turn the country’s attention to the millions of children who are obese. Sure, Smith could have given speeches about it after losing the weight in solitude, but he has chosen to make a public spectacle of the ride and the cause.

“If people act on obesity, this whole trip is worth it,” he said.

The ride has already covered about 3,500 miles, and has included a few speaking engagements.

The men entered York County on U.S. 21 from Charlotte and headed out on S.C. 322 and S.C. 49 toward Union, then more points southwest.

It is impossible to miss them. They have reflective vests, bicycles and Smith is still a big guy.

“But when it is over,” he said, “I won’t be.”

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