Firefighters pedal with purpose from Washington to Colorado Springs memorial


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — An emotional and inspiring weekend is expected in Colorado Springs as hundreds of firefighters are coming from all over the nation to honor the fallen.

Among them is a group from Washington who took several weeks to get here. They were pedaling with a purpose.

“We all love cycling,” Tom Soward said. “There’s a lot of reasons why each person chose to do this.”

He’s a lieutenant with the Renton Fire Department outside of Seattle, Washington.

“With 1,600 miles and 21 stages, there are going to be trials,” Soward said.

He and at least 11 other cyclists saddled up on their bicycles three weeks ago to make the trek from Seattle. Riding up to 90 miles a day, they stayed at fire stations along the way. The worst weather was in Hamilton, Montana, where rains and winds slowed them down.

They’re members of the Northwest Fire Velo group. The cycling group is part of the national cycling club Fire Velo. It promotes and supports fire service efforts of cancer awareness, cancer prevention and overall wellness.

While their ride brings attention to firefighters, it also is supporting injured veterans.

They’re calling it the Firefighters Ride for R.I.S.E., which stands for Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment. This is a Gary Sinise Foundation program that helps military members and their families adapt following life-changing injuries.

“No matter how hard, the 40 flat tires on I-80 doesn’t matter,” Soward said. “Compared to what the guys are going through in the R.I.S.E. program, it’s the least we can do.”

After 9/11, firefighters and military shared a bond, and helping out vets made sense.

Rich Smith came up with the idea for the ride after the son of his longtime friend was critically injured in Afghanistan. In 2015, the Marine received an adaptive house from the RISE program.

“After he was awarded the home, his first words were, ‘how do we keep this going?'” Smith said. “I told him I know a few firefighters dumb enough to cycle 1,500 miles for a good cause.”

The first ride was two years ago. That was also 1,500 miles, but to Los Angeles. This year, it made sense to come to the Fallen Firefighters memorial wall for Saturday’s ceremony.

“After 9/11, firefighters and our military shared a bond,” Sowards said. “That’s why we wear the number 343 on our biking jerseys to remember the fallen at the Twin Towers.”

Another reason they chose Colorado Springs is to remember one of their own who recently lost his battle to cancer. Each rider carried a flag with his name on it to remind them of their purpose. It helped during those long treks battling the elements.

“I can’t believe we finally made it,” Smith said. “It’s definitely one of the highlights of my life. It’s an honor.”

The Northwest Fire Velo hopes to raise $100,000 for RISE. For more information, head to their website.

This year, 250 firefighters will be immortalized on the IAAF Fallen Firefighters memorial wall. The ceremony is Saturday at 11:00 a.m.

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