HOUSTON— A weeklong journey ended Tuesday morning when members of the Houston Police Bicycle Relay Team pedaled into Portland, Maine.
Each rider raised at least $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
This fundraising journey began 32 years ago when an officer’s friend got leukemia.
In the first year of existence, the group rode from Houston to Austin. Every year the team picks a different cross-country destination.
The easiest way to ride 2000 miles on a bike is to do it relay-style. Riders go as far as they can, then they rest in a support vehicle that never leaves their side. A fresh group of riders takes over.
Officer Amelinda Rodriguez works 5th Ward patrol. On the first day of the ride she went 30 miles. She had never ridden any miles on a bike before. She gives credit to childhood home cooking for giving her strength.
”Rice and beans my mom gave me when I was a kid. Still good for today,” Officer Rodriguez said, smiling.
Officer Gabe Olvera works out of Northeast Patrol which includes 5th Ward and Denver Harbor. For him the ride is personal.
”Doing this for my Grandma. She died of cancer,” Olvera said.
His wife, sister and children showed up to cheer him on as he passed through Houston’s FM 1960 area on the first day of the ride last Tuesday.
For retired HPD officer Ronnie Mascheck, the fundraising journey is even more personal.
”My son was 32, passed away from leukemia with three kids,” Mascheck said. “The team rode for him for 10 years while he was suffering from leukemia and it motivated me after he passed away to ride with them.”
And for Burglary and Theft Sgt. Jeff Headley, this ride is most personal.
”I had leukemia just four years ago. God blessed me. Now I can do this,” Headley said. “These guys rode in my name every year I was sick. Made sure my family never missed a paycheck. Put a roof over their head when I couldn’t, so I decided from here on, for the rest of my life I would ride this ride with them (and) raise money to try to help other people.”
Before he left, Sgt. Headley and his fellow officers visited children who have the disease they’re helping to fight.
The riders wear dog tags that constantly jingle around their necks. The ones that say “In Honor Of...” are for patients who are still fighting, like the kids at M.D. Anderson they visited. The ones that say “In Memory Of...” are for patients who have died.
”It’s what keeps us going,” said Jorge Gaytan, Vice-President of the HPD Bike Relay Team.
The riders keep going through heat, rain, darkness and fatigue; through small towns and cities.
They crossed nine states to get to Maine from Houston, going 2,000 miles to catch a killer.
Many ride back to Houston in the support vehicles. Some take a flight home.
If you would like to make a donation to help the HPD Bicycle Relay Team fight leukemia and lymphoma, click here.