Over the course of nearly 10 hours and 100 miles of riding Rochester area pavement, bicyclists are showered with words of praise, encouragement and countless high-fives. But every year during this fundraiser, there is a designated time and area where all riders and spectators fall completely silent. Family members of missing children line this area holding pictures of the loved ones no longer with them.
"That's pretty powerful, because it reminds you why you're doing it," says Paul Adams, a teacher at Florence Brasser Elementary School.
Adams was one of about 300 riders who participated in this year's Ride for Missing Children, a 100-mile bike ride fundraiser that supports the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The bike ride not only honors the memory of all missing children, but raises public awareness about the need for child safety education. It also raises funds to support the missing children poster distribution and supports education for the prevention of child abduction and sexual exploitation, according to the NCMEC.
One of those missing children that was in the heart and mind of Adams and John Driscoll, the latter a teacher at Gates Chili Middle School, was Brittanee Drexel, a former student of Driscoll's during her eighth-grade year in 2003. Drexel was 17 years old when she went missing in South Carolina in 2009.
"She was just a really smart young lady," Driscoll says. "Quiet, but just really polite and friendly to everybody."
Driscoll, who was also the team captain, joined Adams to make up roughly 15 riders from the Gates Chili Central School District's team, Spartan Pride. This was both Adams' and Driscoll's second time participating in the benefit ride, but neither are avid cyclists. In fact, the first time Adams participated in the ride five years ago, he didn't even own a bike. He borrowed his college roommate's bike that had been stowed away in a garage.
"I took the bike out maybe six weeks before the ride, got it serviced and did some practicing,” Adams says.
This year, Adams says he tried to get out three to four times a week for a 15- to 20-mile ride. He says his goal was to make it to about 20 miles for each of his practice runs, because during the 100-mile course there are 20- to 25-minute breaks at each of the schools along the route.
There are also mandatory practice rides that are required by the NCMEC to ensure riders are not only capable of going the distance, but are also comfortable riding in a large group.
Monthly meetings were held for riders and volunteers to understand the importance of why they ride, and ensuring riders have knowledge of everything from required equipment to being both mentally and physically prepared, according to NCMEC.
At each of the stops and along the course, Adams says it's thrilling and emotional to see all the students and faculty members as they show their support through posters, chants and words of encouragement.
"It's just so motivating because you know the cause you're supporting, and also, when you ride by the school, it's super exhilarating and the kids are so very excited to see you,” he says. “That helps you get through the day.”
One of those five stops included Paul Road Elementary School. While Adams says every stop was fantastic, he recalls how one of the biggest ovations the riders got was at Paul Road, where students lined up with noise-makers and rehearsed chants. Members of the Student Council greeted cyclists in the hallways with conversation and high-fives.
Along with raising awareness and support for the organization, Adams says members of the NCMEC also visit any school that is a ride-by school or an official stop and conduct assemblies in which they discuss topics such as anti-bullying and Internet safety.
"I think it just brought our school together, and the kids were really excited,” he says. “I think when they actually saw us and what a big group it was and why we were raising the money, then the kids got a lot out of it.”
Despite the ride officially starting at 8 a.m. and not concluding until nearly 5:30 p.m., Driscoll says the amount of stops help with the riding challenge, but it's also the emotional factor that contributes to motivation. He says it was terrific to have such a large group participating together, which as a result, led to about $4,600 raised by the Spartan Pride team.
"The more the merrier,” Driscoll says. “It was fun getting a bunch of people together.”