Five hearty young Irishmen are turning a negative into a positive with their 49-day odyssey across America, from Washington state to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and funds for two cancer charities.
|Mike Leonard, from left, William Kerwin, and Eoin McNamara pose for a portrait while holding their Hurling Sticks. (Photo: Andrew Weber/Sentinel-Tribune)
On Thursday, their trek across the U.S. took them from Napoleon to Fremont along U.S. 6 East. But around noon they stopped at Panera in Bowling Green to meet local residents Jane George and her daughter, Sara Lewis, then returned in the evening for dinner at Easy Street with more of the George family.
Traveling by bicycle 6,000 kilometers, or about 3,750 miles, are Mark Leonard, 25, William Kerwin, 26, and Eoin (Owen) McNamara, 26. With them is their two-member support team, Robert Shiels and Donal Lucey, who accompany them in a mini-van. All five have had their lives touched by losing someone to cancer, including Leonard's father, James, who died in August of 2006. Leonard is the one who says the trip is a way to turn a negative into a positive.
The lads call their adventure "Cycle of America 2010, a coast-to-coast charity cycle." Out of their own pockets they have paid for their plane fares, bicycles, equipment, van rental, food and lodging so that every donated dollar and Euro go to either the Irish Cancer Society or Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation in the U.S. The funds will be used specifically for patient care and support services such as what Leonard's father received while he was sick.
Bringing with them a wee bit o' luck from their native eastern Ireland - Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow - the band has had a safe, enjoyable and prosperous trip so far. They left Seattle on Aug. 1 and average 80 miles a day, six days a week. The journey concludes Sept. 18 in Washington, D.C.
Their itinerary crosses Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
McNamara said it had been a physical and mental challenge as a bicyclist, getting used to the heat, "long days in the saddle" and four or five tire punctures a day in the first three weeks until they purchased thicker tires.
Lucey said they spent months e-mailing lodging businesses along the route to ask for reduced rates to help keep costs down and "got a great response from the American people." Thirty businesses gave free overnight rooms, saving the five several thousand dollars in personal expenses.
That's how they made contact with the George family since they have a bed and breakfast in their home on West Poe Road.
While the men were unable to stay overnight in Bowling Green, they were happy to stop and meet the family. After spending an hour with the mother and daughter, the men pushed on to Fremont for the night, but drove back together in the minivan for dinner at the George's invitation. They also tucked in some recreational time hurling, a traditional Irish game similar to hockey, on the Bowling Green State University intramural field.
Lucey described the Americans they have met as fantastic and admitted they are somewhat taken aback by their friendliness, as evidenced by the Georges.
"This is pretty exceptional," he stated. "It's great to get a welcome like this. Often we're staying in a hotel. It's great to get local hospitality." He was pleased Jane George has been following the five through their Web site and Facebook page.
Many fundraisers have been held along the journey, generally as part of an Irish festival or in an Irish pub, helping the five to raise around $3,000 since their trip started last month. The owner of a lodge they stayed at in Spearfish, S.D., held a pancake breakfast which raised over $300.
All funds raised along the trip will stay in the U.S. and go to the Livestrong Foundation. But persons who make donations through the Web site can choose whether to give it to the Irish Cancer Society or Livestrong.
Even before the men left Ireland at the end of July they'd met their initial goal of raising 20,000 Euros, so they jumped it to 30,000.
The Web site is www.cycleofamerica2010.com. Their e-mail is