Team 26 Sets Course For New Destination: Pittsburgh
Every year since 2013, Sandy Hook resident and gun violence prevention advocate Monte Frank and his Team 26 cycling colleagues have traveled between Newtown and Washington, D.C., to remember those lost to gun violence here in Newtown on 12/14 as well as to unite fellow Americans and elected leaders at state and federal levels around their mission.
The annual trip — regardless of whether it began or ended in Newtown — has been an immense physical challenge, with the added emotional component that has inspired every single Team 26 member who has made the trek over the years.
But according to Mr Frank, who spoke with The Newtown Bee, his 2019 riders will carry an even heavier emotional weight this year.
Team 26 recently lost one of its co-organizers — and a dear personal friend of Mr Frank's — when Dave Hoyle, a lifelong bicycle enthusiast, passed away on April 1 at the age of 33. And for the first time, Team 26 is plotting its course to a brand new destination — the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
On October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held there, a single gunman killed 11 people and wounded seven more in what remains the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
“We’ve done this ride six years in a row, and since we began the ride, more than 180,000 people have been lost to gun violence. And yet, Congress has failed to act in the face of this critical public health issue,” Mr Frank said. “So when we got together last fall, we realized what we do best is raise awareness and bring people into the discussion.”
Riding To Remember
Mr Frank said when his teammates gathered last fall to plan their next ride, they observed the political process in Washington seemed to be doing just the opposite: dividing those with positions on commonsense gun legislation into two opposite corners. Around the same time, Team 26 learned about the devastating massacre in Pittsburgh.
“That had a tremendous effect on me, being Jewish — my father grew up in Squirrel Hill — so the idea to ride to Pittsburgh instead of DC to unite the communities of Sandy Hook and Squirrel Hill and all the communities in between was born,” he said. “We hope that by primarily visiting with faith-based communities on the ride, we’ll be able to drive a cultural change we hope will lead to real change on the legislative side.”
Turning to the loss of an individual Mr Frank described as “the heart and soul of Team 26,” he referenced a few of the remarks delivered during Mr Hoyle’s eulogy. “I loved him like a brother, and he will be sorely missed.”
Mr Frank recalled his late friend was the bridge to the student riders who will bring about real change.
“Under Dave’s tutelage, the ride so positively impacted those young riders’ lives,’ he stated. “As a tribute to Dave, we have changed our route to ride through Willow Grove, Pennsylvania — Dave’s hometown. We look forward to seeing [his] Philly area friends as we ride into Willow Grove.”
In his memory, Mr Frank and Team 26 also promoted a new social media handle #ridelikedave.
Team 26 will depart Newtown for Pittsburgh on its 2019 ride of peace, hope, and love on Friday, April 26. Mr Frank said this year’s ride will also incorporate several configurations of riders that will number between 20 and 30.
“We’ll have a group that is departing from Newtown for the first leg of the trip to Baltimore, another group that will join us along the way and finish the ride, and a core group of about 15 that will be there for the entire ride,” he said.
Team 26 will make its first stop in Peekskill, N.Y., then head to Morristown and Trenton, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Newark, Del. They will then head west with planned stops in Gettysburg and Chambersburg, Penn., and a visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial before ending near the Tree of Life Synagogue on May 2.
The send-off event on Friday is from 8 to 8:45 am at Trinity Episcopal Church, 36 Main Street. The community is invited to join Newtown Interfaith Council and local leaders to wish Team 26 well on their journey.
The more than 600-mile trek will traverse six states in six days, sharing advocacy toward reducing gun violence at each turn and during each stopover.
“We must all come together as one nation to stomp out hate,” Mr Frank wrote in a pre-ride message on the Team 26 website. “They will ride with Charleston, Christchurch, Sutherland Springs, and Oak Creek in their hearts. An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths.”
More information is available at team26.org.
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