HUDSON — Jeff Burow was in disbelief.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," the 39-year-old recalled thinking. "I can't believe I'm capable of pushing myself to this limit."
But he was.
The Hudson cyclist pedaled across Florida and back on Christmas Eve to raise money for the the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program of West Pasco and for needy families. His wife, Nicole, and their three kids followed him in their Toyota Prius. They left in the early hours of Christmas Eve and got back about 2:30 a.m. Christmas Day, using money that otherwise would have gone to their holiday to fund the trip.
It was a family decision, grounded in family history.
Burow's mother was abused by his father, he said. Nicole Burow survived an abusive relationship, too, and so did her mother and grandmother, she said.
"Knowing that we could try to make a difference somewhere, that's what touched my heart," the 38-year-old said.
The family fell short of its $10,000 goal, raising just over $2,000 ahead of the trip through GoFundMe and a few cash donations. They publicized the effort on Facebook and other social media platforms.
And dad fell short of his 310-mile goal, biking 290 miles.
"But it was still really exciting," said Nicole Burow.
The idea started with their children. They wanted their gift money spent on a good cause — for someone else.
"I really love just to see people happy and helping others," said Kennadie, 14. "It just puts a smile on their face and gives them hope."
Little brother, Daniel, 9, had a more concrete reason for giving up his Christmas.
"Because I have enough train stuff, and I don't need anymore," he said.
The crew ran into mishaps.
Dad's bike navigation system malfunctioned. He damaged his headlamp. He got a flat tire. For stretches of the trip, his wife read him directions through an earpiece. The family followed State Road 50 from Pine Island to Cocoa Beach.
Allen, 13, and his siblings took turns handing their father water or snacks through the car window.
On their way back, Jeff Burow felt fatigued. He stopped once. Kennadie gave him a pep talk. He stopped again, and his wife told him he couldn't go on.
"He's a stubborn man. He'll push himself to the limit," she said.
They had about 20 miles left. He made it another 300 yards.
"It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, both mentally and physically," he said. "But it was also very exciting."
The family gave $1,000 of the donations to the Salvation Army shelter program, and $500 to a Port Richey family whose baby has a costly disease. They plan to split $500 in goods between two other families.
Jeff Burow is proud of his kids' generosity, but it all comes back to the cause he feels so personally.
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"Without (a shelter), my sister and I would've ended up in foster care; my mom would probably be gone," he said.
He and his family plan to do another trip next Christmas. They've already heard from others who want to take up their cause.
"That's what I want," said Jeff Burow. "What started out as a dinner table conversation, I want to grow into something that inspires."
Contact Justin Trombly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JustinTrombly.