Connecticut’s hills proved a good challenge for those riding in this year’s UnitedHealthcare Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) Minuteman Challenge, which reached Newtown on day three of its seven-day journey. A convoy of 150 bicyclers, their support teams and escorts arrived in Sandy Hook around 2:45 Tuesday afternoon, taking the bridge from Southbury’s River Road and turning left onto Glen Road. From there, riders traveled to Cherry Street, then picked up Riverside Road for a rest and water stop at Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue’s main station.
A large American flag had been hung from the company’s ladder truck, and a few members were on hand to welcome the riders and their support teams.
The group had hoped to reach the firehouse by 2 pm, but the challenges of the Nutmeg State’s hills took a toll on many of the riders that day.
“We fell a little behind schedule,” said Debora Spano, a spokesperson for R2R said Tuesday afternoon. Around her, cyclists of all ages were walking around the Riverside Road firehouse, stretching muscles that had been used since earlier in the day, when the group departed from downtown Hartford. “Connecticut has some beautiful roads, but it also has a lot of hills.”
Fortunately, the purpose of R2R is not to race through each day’s scheduled route. R2R is “an experience that will challenge [riders] physically, mentally, and emotionally,” according to the nonprofit organization’s website.
Cyclists departed from Lexington, Mass., on Sunday, September 8, and will continue until they reach Philadelphia on Saturday, September 14, covering approximately 425 miles. They are not racing, but continuing training and healing for injured veterans through the challenge of long distance cycling. Riders use hand cycles, recumbents, tandems and traditional road bikes in R2R Challenges.
“With some of the hand cycles and recumbents especially, some of the riders need a little push up the hills,” Ms Spano said. “They like to keep everybody going.”
In fact, many riders were seen offering each other help up some of the town’s hills Tuesday. Cyclists were divided into three groups, and many in the third group were helping each other up the first challenging grade, the hill that took them from Glen Road and up the first half of Cherry Street. Fortunately, a few bystanders were also out to cheer the riders on. One even called to the final riders, “Get to the top of the hill and you can coast to the firehouse!” The encouragement brought tired smiles from a few of the riders.
At the firehouse, there was time for everyone to meet the firefighters who were at the station that afternoon. There was plenty of time for photos, and also time for R2R President and Founder John Wordin to make a special presentation.
“I don’t know if all of you realize this,” he said to the cyclists after they had all gathered in front of the bays of the fire station. “But behind this firehouse is Sandy Hook School. This firehouse is where the children and their teachers and their parents all came on December 14. It was chaos here that morning.
“If you don’t already know,” he continued, pointing to the roof of the building, “the stars on top of this firehouse are to honor the children and teachers who were killed that morning. This is a special place.”
Standing next to Mr Wordin was Steve Stohl, an engineer with Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue.
“This man, and many of the firefighters who are here today, were here that morning,” Mr Wordin said. “We have a special gift for them.”
In his hands, Mr Wordin was holding an R2R jersey that had been signed by himself and many of the riders. He handed the jersey to Mr Stohl, who accepted it on behalf of the company.
After their break at the firehouse, the group returned to the road. The first two groups of riders left around 3:40, heading west to travel the length of Church Hill Road. Once they reached the flagpole riders turned right onto Main Street, and continued on Mt Pleasant Road toward Bethel.
The final riders passed into Bethel on Tuesday around 4:30, heading for an overnight stay in Danbury. The full entourage arrived in Danbury at approximately 5:45, Ms Spano confirmed that evening.
In addition to vans with equipment and support staff, riders are escorted by American Legion Riders for most of each day.
“Some of these guys have come from Virginia to help us,” Ms Spano said Tuesday afternoon. “They come and escort us wherever we go.”
R2R, a 501(c)(3), helps injured veterans improve their health and wellness through individual and group cycling. Cycling has proven to be a catalyst in the recovery process by providing a new physical challenge while concurrently helping to cope with psychological challenges.
In addition to the Minuteman, R2R has six additional multiday challenges scheduled this year (in which veterans ride free of charge, and have the cost of meals, lodging and a jersey covered through R2R); six Honor Rides, which serve to raise awareness and as the funding arm for R2R, while giving the public the opportunity to ride with veterans and enlisted military personnel on noncompetitive rides; and five special events also scheduled this year.