Near-triple-digit heat doesn't stop 65-mile charity bike ride

Sunday's 35th annual 'Ben To The Shore Bike Tour' benefited families of fallen, critically injured first responders

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — What were you doing on the hottest day of the year?

Well, hundreds of first responder supporters were biking from Philadelphia to Atlantic City — 65 miles — for the 35th annual "Ben To The Shore Bike Tour."

"We have 2,150 riders on the hottest day of the year, but we're going to get them safely to Atlantic City for a great cause," said Mark O’Connor, executive director of Families Behind The Badge Children’s Foundation, early Sunday before riders arrived for the 7 a.m. sendoff.

The great cause was helping families of fallen and critically injured first responders, whom the proceeds benefited. The nonprofit organization also encourages positive relationships between police and the children the officers serve.

The event had a goal of raising $1.2 million dollars, and as of Sunday afternoon, the Families Behind the Badge Children's Foundation web site indicated that was reached.

"We connect cops and kids in non-enforcement positive actions," said O'Connor. "Chess, chess clubs, we have a drumline. So we do things so that the kids see that there's a human being behind that uniform, and the cops get to meet the kids on a different level and it's very, very powerful and it's working very, very well."

As an extension of that, O'Connor said for the ride, they had 10 kids from the Temple University area ride with Temple police officers.

"We bought them bikes," said O'Connor. "They put the bikes together with the cops. They've been training together with the cops. So these kids aging from 10 years old to 14 are going to ride the 30-mile event with the Temple officers."

That was a new element to the ride, called "The Tour de Shore" in past years. In addition to the 65-mile trek from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to Atlantic City, some could start in Hammonton for a shorter route.

As O'Connor mentioned, safety was top of mind amid crazy temperatures.

"We have four rest stops between Philly and Atlantic City and the rest stops are stocked with water, Gatorade," he said. "One of our signature items for this event is we give out uncrustables and everybody loves the uncrustables, right? So we try to give them energy. There’s bananas, oranges, things like that.

"We have bike shops at every rest stop and they’ll fix your flats or maybe tune your bike up just a little bit."

There are also cars and trucks traveling along with the riders just in case they need a ride to Atlantic City.

Hydration was happening, though, even before things got underway early Sunday morning.

Tom Flexon of Bucks County, who was riding for the "Delco Pacers," said he had hydration mixes in his bag.

Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, riding for the county's "Wheels of Justice" team, said he started getting emails Wednesday with an offer to go to the 30-mile ride because of the heat.

"I was wondering why they did that," Lawrence said, "and then I looked at the weather forecast and I said, 'That's why they’re doing that.' But, I'm not dropping … you train for the 65."

Lawrence said he had two bottles of water and he was going to make sure he stopped at each stop and hydrated. "There's a lot of support and cheering along the way to [the shore] in the towns," he said.

As 7 a.m. approached, more and more riders were lining up along Race Street between 6th and 8th streets looking at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Phillies broadcaster Gregg Murphy, who has been associated with this event for years, was the emcee of the pre-ride ceremony.

"I think what makes [this event] so special is that it's so Philadelphia," Murphy told KYW Newsradio. "Everybody that is riding in this ride is from the Delaware Valley. All that money that's raised is staying here in the Delaware Valley and we're helping folks that help the Delaware every single day – the police, the [firefighters] and the first responders … it's just Philadelphia."

Murphy — who had to call the Phillies radio pre- and postgame shows Sunday afternoon — said he's done the ride in triple digits before, so he was confident it could be done.

"It'll be a challenge," he said, "but they'll have a sense of accomplishment when they get there."

As well as the sense they're riding for a cause near and dear to them.

"We need these people each and every day," Murphy said of first responders, "and they put their lives on the line. Every time they walk out the door, say goodbye to their loved ones, there is a chance — more of a chance for them than the rest of us — that they won't get a chance to come back home."

Murphy said they're here to support those families financially and emotionally.

For this ride in particular, there were tragedies that happened within the past year that came to the mind of Joe Sullivan — the president of the Families Behind the Badge Children’s Foundation as well as a former deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Those included the deaths of Pennsylvania State Troopers Branden Sisca and Martin Mack, who were killed by an alleged drunk driver on I-95 in March, as well as Lt. Sean Williamson of the Philadelphia Fire Department, who was killed in a Fairhill building collapse last month.

Sullivan said he was doing the 30-mile ride with police officer Arcenio Perez, who suffered a devastating arm injury after being in a shootout with a man with a rifle.

"Despite all of that," Sullivan said, "[Perez] insists to be part of this ride because he sees what this charity does for the families of our first responders."

And one of the other pre-ride speakers was state Rep. Amen Brown, who represents the 190th district in West Philadelphia. He wanted to be there for support.

"I think everyone will agree that there's bad apples in every situation, or every organization or what have you," Brown said. "But all police ain't bad police. Yes, there might be a handful. But, we the community need to work with law enforcement to turn this city around. We're currently in a city of lawlessness. You can do what you want, when you want and there's no consequence. And that's a problem."

Brown said he would like to see the community and law enforcement work together. He was looking forward to meeting the group of 10 to 14-year-olds from the Temple area riding with the university's officers once they were all together in Atlantic City.

"Because it's rare that you see the youth getting involved in this industry," he said. "But you know, I'm here to be supportive. But it makes me feel good to know that they're there. Hopefully next year, they do the full ride because I will be prepared to do the full ride next year."

Even in triple-digit heat, said Brown, "because if they can do it, we can too."

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