The day had finally come Wednesday for four bicycle riders to make their way back home to Sun City Center, Fla. from Sun City, a 2,400 mile trek in the name of pediatric cancer research.
Mike Libenson, Adolf Lex, John Bear and Mike Brown flew or drove to Sun City from their homes in Florida for the start of a ride inspired by the death of Libenson’s granddaughter Samantha Rotman from osteosarcoma at the age of 9. Libenson started the group SammyRides to raise money for pediatric cancer research and to help other families dealing with the disease.
After two years of planning, the four men began their ride from the Sundial Recreation Center on Wednesday morning.
“It’s a long trip, a long trip,” Bear said. “It’s for a good cause, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The riders, with help from an ad hoc committee formed by the Sun City Home Owner’s Association headed by former board member Ben Roloff, toured the community and met with various clubs before their ride to both raise money and awareness about the organization.
“This is something that I never thought of a year ago,” Libenson said of the community involvement. “Ben Roloff is Sun City’s impresario.”
Lex was ready for the departure day, but enjoyed touring Sun City.
“It was very exciting and tiring,” Lex said of the trip. “After getting ready for so long, it’s finally here.”
Roloff and the ad hoc committee “got so many people involved, so many people connected to a good cause” Libenson said, and he hopes that the connections they have made will be long-lasting.
“It’s a culmination of three months of planning,” Roloff said. “We’re hoping that the community responds and continues to respond.”
SammyRides also received a lot of help from Sun City’s 50th Anniversary Committee, including a $1,500 donation, fitting because the riders will be arriving in Sun City Center on April 30th, just in time for their community’s own 50th anniversary celebrations.
Committee volunteers here in Sun City are even tossing around the idea of traveling to Florida for the bikers arrival.
The four riders have mixed emotions about the ride: They are both excited and nervous, but the length of the trip is daunting.
“Humor is what keeps us going, that’s how we survive,” Libenson said.
One of the other goals of the group is to show people they are still active even though their average age is 70. Libenson’s wife Lois is driving a car behind the riders and even got her EMT certification before the trip just in case any emergencies arise.
“They should just stay safe,” Lois Libenson said, adding with a smile that she can handle anything as long as the riders aren’t bleeding.
Physical injury is just one concern on the trip. The riders are also worried about sandstorms, snow and rain as they travel through southern Arizona, through New Mexico, across Texas (where they will be traveling for almost a month), Louisiana, Mississippi and into Florida.
“The nicest part will be when we hit Louisiana; you’ll have no more mountains,” Lex said.
Bear joked that he is just ready to “get [the ride] over and done with.”
The group underwent body fat and stress tests before their trip, and will go through the same process when they finish to see what differences the ride has made in their bodies.
“I’ll probably lose 10 pounds on this trip,” Brown said.
Donations for pediatric cancer awareness and education can be sent to SammyRides, P.O. Box 5923, Sun City Center, FL 33571, or visit www.sammyrides.com and make contributions via a credit card.
Blog updates from the ride and a route list are also available on the website.