SUN CITY CENTER
As family, friends and neighbors looked on, the bike riders pedaled into Sun City Center. Tired and strained by their 2,400-mile cross-country journey, the men beamed at the cheering spectators, many of whom donned bright green T-shirts in their honor.
The bikers, who had pedaled for months, were almost home, nearing the end of their ride to raise funds and promote awareness of pediatric cancer. At the finish line on April 30, a large crowd awaited their arrival at the United Methodist Church of Sun City Center with balloons, a barbecue and live music.
"I'm so happy! I just want to hug him and not let go of him," Frances Lex said of her husband of 51 years, Adolf Lex. "It's been two months and 65 days exactly. We were never apart for that long."
On March 2, Mike Libenson, John Bear, Lex and Mike Brown began their journey. They aimed to ride from Sun City, Ariz., to Sun City Center, Fla. Their effort was about more than physical fitness or sport. The men rode as part of SammyRides, a group Libenson founded in honor of his granddaughter, Sammy Rotman, who died from osteosarcoma in 2008 at the age of 9. The men sought to raise money to support cancer research and to disprove stereotypes about retirees.
"Our average age is 70," said Libenson, 73. "We're in good shape, and our message is to try and stay in good shape as much as you can so that you're not a drain on society, but you're an engine to society. The elderly are not ready for the dust bin."
The men said they raised more than $110,000 for SammyRides. Through Team Will, a California organization that raises money for cancer research, they will distribute the money to hospitals and other cancer researchers.
"Bottom line, we just really want to help save lives," Libenson said.
Each of the riders used smart phones to communicate with family back home. Lois Libenson, Mike Libenson's wife, drove alongside the riders and helped update the team's blog.
Just hours before reaching the finish line in Sun City Center, the riders arrived in Tampa and visited pediatric cancer patients at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. The final leg of the journey was captured on the blog:
Our riders are just 25 miles from home doing what they do best: bringing smiles to the faces of children, who with the help of all our SammyRides friends, will also be able to find their way home again. This has been an incredible journey for all of us.
Jonathan Milton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.