Riding For Fallen Officers

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On the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, Katie Smith and her family accepted a check from Aurora Policeman Bill Pontious. The money was given in honor of Katie’s mom, Colorado Department of Corrections Sergeant Mary Ricard, who had been killed by an inmate while she was working at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility.

Bill and several of his fellow officers had raised the money by biking from New York City to Boston with Tour de Force, a national nonprofit organization that hosts annual fundraising rides to provide financial assistance to the families of fallen officers.

On this day, Katie was overwhelmed.

“The last year-and-a-half has been a living nightmare,” she says. “My mom was just doing her job.”

That sentiment – “just doing her job” – is at the heart of the Tour de Force (TDF) mission. The organization was started in 2002 when a group of New York Police Department officers decided to ride their bikes from Ground Zero to the Pentagon to honor the police officers who had given their lives in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Since that time, the TDF has evolved into an annual four-day event in which over 300 officers gather from around the country to raise funds for families of officers killed in the line of duty. Until last year, the riders had always biked from Ground Zero to the Pentagon or from the Pentagon to Ground Zero. Last year, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the officers instead decided to bike from Ground Zero to the Boston Marathon finish line.

Bill, who lost friends in the 9/11 tragedy, has ridden in the event every year since 2005. Each officer who rides must raise a minimum of $1,200 to participate. All of the money goes to the national Tour de Force organization and is then distributed to chapters based on need.

Sadly, Colorado has seen several officers fall in the last few years.

“In the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve delivered seven checks and given back $50,000 to law enforcement families in Colorado,” he says.

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In total, Bill says that Colorado’s TDF chapter has raised over $100,000 and is second only to New York City in total funds raised by a chapter.

The officers also organize bike rides to hand-deliver the checks. Two years ago, they biked from Denver to Limon to deliver a check to the family of Officer Jay Sheridan.  For Sergeant Mary Ricard, the bikers started at Aurora Police District 1 and biked eight miles, with a motorcycle escort, to the capital.

Katie biked with the group and met her family at the capital.

“This is my healing journey,” she said before the ride. “It’s going to be emotional but I know she’s right here with me.”

Bill says that there is a “mini cult” of officers in Colorado who love to bike – mountain and road. He also jokes that he has achieved Colorado’s version of utopia: “My bike is worth more than my car.”

But he grows serious talking about the rides and says that the annual fundraising event on the east coast and the check-delivery rides are therapeutic, solemn experiences for everyone involved.

“In the early years, Ground Zero was still a rubble pile and today, when we pull into New York City, the Freedom Tower is up. It’s a very emotional experience,” he says, adding, “It’s nice to be able to raise money doing something you love for something you’re very passionate about.”

Keating Wagner is a sponsor of the Aurora Tour de Force chapter. To make a donation, visit http://www.tourdeforceny.com/donations.html

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