Administration and Leadership, Columns

National EMS Memorial Capital-to-Capital Bike Ride Comes to an End

Entry 14: A Thousand Miles Pedaled

Please forgive my slight tardiness in getting this last day of the ride’s update to you, but, well … the celebrations at the conclusion of the Capital-to-Capital and National EMS Memorial Bike Rides went a little longer than anticipated and I felt it my duty to make sure I stayed diligent in my obligation to cover and experience said activities come hell or high hangover.

I mean water. Hell or high water.

Most of the riders I have spoken with, especially those who cycled the full 1,000+ miles over the past 13 days, agree it all seems like a big blur (a statement made before the celebrations). Most amazingly, from a personal point of view, I never had to change a flat tire the whole journey, and I never failed to find a Dunkin’ Donuts for every quarter mile cycled.

More importantly, there were no injuries or major falls.

We had the occasional, what I like to call “funny falls.” Those falls occur when a biker fails to remember to unclip from their pedals as they come to a complete stop. One minute they’re sitting perfectly on their bike in the assumed cycling position and seconds later they fall sideways. Quite embarrassing, but hilarious as long as it’s not you. One biker today had a funny fall, but as he lay there he just said in a matter of fact way, “I stopped to do a push up.” Nice recovery. I will file that away for later use myself. Though my body is thankful that the build up of lactic acid in my thighs will soon be a thing of the past (for now), I will miss those little daily moments of good spirited banter among the bikers and support staff.

Every year, regardless of which ride I choose to participate, whether it be the East Coast, Southern, Midwest, Colorado or West Coast route, or this year’s new Capital-to-Capital Bike Ride, there is always a new route with new sites introduced. On this last day we had a special surprise when our bikes were directed to pedal toward FedEx Field in Maryland. Before I realized what was happening, we were ordered to pedal in single file through the gigantic blow up helmet of the Washington Redskins football team—the same helmet the players run through. At the end of the tunneled helmet were two Washington Redskin cheerleaders waving their pom-poms of red and gold directing us toward BBQ sandwiches and dogs. As hungry as we were, the male riders felt it would be rude if we did not personally thank the cheerleaders and provide them the auspicious opportunity to have their picture taken with each of us…individually…multiple times. Though I’m a die-hard Bronco’s fan, I take my helmet off to the Washington Redskins organization for recognizing and supporting the sacrifices EMS providers give every day, including those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

So, as I reflect on all the special places we’ve seen over a thousand-mile stretch, is there one moment or place that sticks out more than the others? Without a doubt it is the last 1,000 feet traveled as we arrived at our final destination. For at that finish line there are cheers, pipes and drums playing, honor guards at attention, flags and swords drawn, but more importantly, the families, friends and co-workers of those honorees who will be inducted tomorrow at the National EMS Memorial Service.

I am not one to show my emotions on my sleeves. I keep them to myself for the most part. It is just my nature. Maybe reinforced by the nature of the business that requires us to be strong for others and not ourselves, but when I see the faces of those who now struggle with the loss of these honored women and men, my tears are displayed openly.

I met the family and fellow co-worker of Rick Hartley, whose name I wore around my neck. He died in the line of duty only six months ago, and I learned of the man who was more than just a paramedic. He was a husband, father and brother whose family understood why he had to miss so many holiday meals and special events to serve his small community. They sacrificed potential memories themselves so that he could save others.

As stories of Rick were shared, I noticed the father at the table we sat at remained silent, and as I prepared to take my leave he stood to shake my hand and I could see tears swell in his eyes. The handshake then became a hug as he said in a soft barely audible voice, “I miss my son so much.”

Please take a moment to remember our honorees during Saturday’s National EMS Memorial Service—especially those who loved them. They too have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

A thousand miles pedaled? Insignificant in comparison.

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