Rides to remember: 9/11 memorial bike rides trigger emotions for cyclists

  • Zurich North America participants on the 9/11 Remembrance Ride honored employees lost in the World Trade Towers.

    Zurich North America participants on the 9/11 Remembrance Ride honored employees lost in the World Trade Towers. Courtesy of John Zumski

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along For the Ride
Updated 10/1/2021 11:41 AM

A sunny blue-sky morning, hauntingly familiar, greeted us Sept. 9 for a 9/11 Remembrance Ride in Schaumburg.

The 20-mile bike ride, followed by silence and prayers at Zurich North America's KAMP Remembrance Garden, honored four employees killed on 9/11: John Keohane, Peggy Alario, Kathy Moran and Lud Picarro. An internal corporate event only, I was privileged to attend.

 

John Zumski, Underwriting University Technical Specialist and Tour De Zurich's U.S. representative, planned the looping two-mile course around the former Motorola headquarters, now converting into a multiuse development along Meacham Road.

Silence accompanied the first 10-12 miles, save for bike chains constantly whirring. Even noise of occasional vehicles seemed muffled, perhaps decelerating in deference to our solemn procession. It seemed sacred, similar to the annual cyclists' Ride of Silence, held worldwide in May.

A moment of contemplation at the KAMP Remembrance Garden at Zurich North America's Schaumburg campus.
A moment of contemplation at the KAMP Remembrance Garden at Zurich North America's Schaumburg campus. - Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak
Spirit of KAMP

Honoring the victims, we had affixed a name tag to our jerseys. I selected "KAMP," an acronym representing all four surnames and a term suffused with corporate meaning.

Established one year after 9/11, the KAMP Leadership Award honors employees demonstrating Zurich NA's best: A spirit of courage, dedication, integrity and passion. I was also privileged to meet Jocelyn Jopa, director of Litigation Management, a 2020 KAMP honoree.

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"The spirit of KAMP is steadfast in our Zurich culture," Jopa explained. "I feel honored to live up to the award." She served on the committee reviewing nominations for 2021 KAMP honorees, announced next day at a separate ceremony. That several other KAMP honorees pedaled with us wasn't surprising.

Chicago-area cyclists are no strangers to 9/11 rides. On prior anniversaries, I've led my local club's casual rides to Zurich's campus. Having discovered the garden, I knew others would appreciate it, a hallowed space to remember and reflect any day of the year.

As early as 2008, Palatine Police Department officers cycled to support first responders. Four years in a row, then Deputy Chief Alan Stoeckel, organized long-distance fundraisers.

"I was looking for an event supporting the families of law enforcement and fire department personnel killed in the line of duty," Stoeckel recently remembered. "I found information regarding the Tour de Force 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride online."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Palatine police raised funds

Palatine officers Chad Felde, Stewart Seaholm and Garth Martino accompanied Stoeckel in 2008, cycling from New York City to the Pentagon. Two other rides followed that same route; a fourth traveled from Boston to New York. Palatine residents, Bob Hanson and Mike Haduch, also participated.

Recalling that experience, now retired Police Chief Stoeckel remarked, "The ride triggered a number of emotions. You felt good raising funds for a worthy cause and meeting like-minded others from around the nation. Most importantly, the theme of a 9/11 ride starting and ending at locations with such significant meaning took the ride to a whole new level.

"The ride is physically and emotionally draining, but the pain dissipates as you slowly ride by ground zero. No amount of physical pain or mental anguish we encountered can parallel what so many went through that fateful day in 2001, that changed all our lives forever."

This year, the "Freedom Rollers," finished their own 9/11 anniversary ride, led by Bartlett cyclist, Bill Strawn, and were "exhilarated but humbled" by the 11-day 750-mile experience.

Noteworthy for Strawn was his ground zero experience in New York City.

"Sunday before we left, a bagpiper played 'Amazing Grace' at a Jersey City memorial directly across the Hudson. That set the tone for the start of the trip."

Leaving ground zero Aug. 31, the group biked to Arlington, Virginia's National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and then to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, for the Sept. 11 ceremony.

Freedom Rollers at ground zero in New York City, from left: Meghan Cowin, Michael De St. Aubin, Bill Strawn, Tom Stokes and Bill De St. Aubin.
Freedom Rollers at ground zero in New York City, from left: Meghan Cowin, Michael De St. Aubin, Bill Strawn, Tom Stokes and Bill De St. Aubin. - Courtesy of Marleen Cheatham
Freedom Rollers honor heroes

Named after Wheaton resident Todd Beamer's "Let's Roll!" command on the hijacked jet aimed at Washington, D.C., Strawn's crew hailed from Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Illinois. Among them was Buffalo Grove's Dave Margolis who rode from D.C., to Shanksville.

Cycling through remnants of tropical storm Ida, the group endured broken bones, tornadoes and flash flood rains, exceeding the long-distance endurance ride they originally conceived in 2016.

As uncle Bob Strawn, a former Daily Herald photographer, reminded Bill, "Just remember what the memorials are all about."

He certainly did. Planning 18 months ahead, Strawn contacted the National Park Service at the Flight 93 National Memorial in March 2020.

Cyclists end their 750-mile ride at the Flight 93 National Memorial. From left are Tom Stokes, Katrina Davidson, Bill Strawn, Meghan Cowin and Dave Margolis.
Cyclists end their 750-mile ride at the Flight 93 National Memorial. From left are Tom Stokes, Katrina Davidson, Bill Strawn, Meghan Cowin and Dave Margolis. - Courtesy of Marleen Cheatham

"The goal is to ride 700+ miles to honor all those affected that fateful morning," Strawn explained to Park Ranger Adam Shaffer. "We were hoping our bikes could ceremoniously honor the families and the patriots. Flight 93 would be the fitting completion of our journey."

The National Park Service provided VIP seating tickets for the Sept. 11 ceremony. President George W. Bush and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke, "calling for unity in the face of current polarization," noted Margolis. "Most moving were the voices of the family members of those lost on flight 93, made ever more dramatic by the ringing of the bells, along with the vastness and sense of sacredness of the memorial landscape."

Strawn was also impressed with the memorial field's sanctity, lacking in history prior to the crash.

"It's simply a place where heroes saved not only many potential victims but also a symbol of American democracy."

Among potential victims was Strawn's aunt, a Capitol Hill worker, who "sent me a note at the event thanking me for honoring those heroes who possibly saved her life."

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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