As some of the families joined in Holiday Inn's front lobby on Friday morning we shared memories of previous rides, friendships made and the relationships yet to be created. There were 66 families at this year's ride and 8 recovered children! Wow! Sadly the number of families involved increases yet so does the number of recovered children. Ed Smart spoke at closing ceremonies and emphasized how valuable each rider was ~ they/you are taking a proactive venture to educate our children and their families to prevent further children from being abducted. Beautifully said...with all the prevention and education available and funded through the Ride for Missing Children and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ~ our kids are safer!
The first photograph is of my family with our "Designated Riders" - who ride a bicycle in honor of Heidi and each of us! Thank you for each peddle of your bike, each hug before and druing the ride and all the prayers and support throughout the year.
Opening ceremonies at the YMCA before heading to the bikes to start this year's RMC - Making our children safer, one child at a time! Trooper Jim Simpson joined us for the last time as trooper to encourage and prepare all the riders for the day's ride, making sure everyone was kept safe. Each ride opens with words of encouragement from a family member searching for their missing loved one. This year a RECOVERED CHILD spoke with a strength, perseverance and dedication to SURVIVE! She uses her gift of life and speaking to educate other children and law enforcement ~ God has once again transformed tragedy and pain into power and strength utilized to help others.
In addition to having our wonderful designated riders ~ each family (all 66) are blessed with a "Family Buddy". Our family buddy, Maria was so sweet. She spoiled me so much I had the "Queen's breakfast" special this morning at breakfast. LOL Seriously though ~ while at the RMC, family members need to be careful with our wording. Miss Maria kept asking "Can I get you anything? Do you need anything?" and I would assure her we were all set, took wonderful care of us. (If Miss Deb had to start a new venue at the ride, Miss Maria was a beautiful and welcome addition.) A couple times when asked if I wanted anything I responded with "Yes, a netbook please." We would laugh. I told Mary "I better be careful or they'll find one." and we laughed. Maria took such good care of us ~ we wanted and needed for nothing!! Thanks Maria! You said to think of you as our "ambassador" for the day - you will thought of and prayed for often ~ you were a wonderful ambassador (and chaperone).
Ephesians 6:19-20 says: "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."
While 481 bicylist peddled their bicycles 100 miles ~ the families divide up and start their journey. Some ride their bicycles, some ride in the family van or bus, some volunteer, some watch from a distance, some stay home to pray for everyone involved and others are blessed with special "side journeys".
This year Mary and I were blessed with a wonderful start to our ride. Instead of boarding the family van we were escorted down the drive. Mary kept asking "Where are we going? The family has already got on the bus." Even though we reassured her it was part of her surprise, she was apprehensive. They told her she had a special seat for the first leg of the ride ~ we rounded the corner to see four law enforcement officers on their motorcycles. Oh my, if I had a camera to record the shocked look on her face, it was priceless. We didn't let her stew too long before pointing out the "Official Pace Vehicle" illuminated in white behind the motorcycles. Someone should have had a camera to capture the wide-eyed glow beaming from her ~ we would be riding in the very front, directly in front of the riders! Yippee...a fabulous and joyful way to start this year's journey.
The weather wasn't predicted to be sunny and beautiful yet with 481 riders and an equal number of family and supporters praying ~ we knew it would be a glorious day for a ride and it was. This photo is one taken from the official pace car at the start of the ride! Yipee!
Although this is a "ride", we are all reminded throughout the day it is more than a ride. During the ride there are "silent tributes" in honor of the missing children that have been recovered and wait for their families in heaven. This is an emotional and powerful part of the ride as the families stand behind the sign with their child's name and date of disappearance listed while the 481 cyclist ride past in complete silence with tears in their eyes, hands on their hearts and making the sign of the cross to show their love and support for the families. Jenni-Lyn Watson disappeared from Liverpool, New York, close to where we live. Her family wasn't able to be there so my daughter and I were honored to stand-in on her families behalf during this special remembrance and tribute.
This is a picture of my cousin's daughter Sabrina ~ this was the first year she could ride the entire 100 miles in honor of her cousin. She was all smiles as the ride began and looking forward to resting at the end of the day! Thanks for riding Sabrina! It meant a lot to me and the rest of the family.
Each year we meet new people and make new friends. This year there were two recovered children, true survivors riding in the family bus with us ~ one of which was a blessing beyond words to my daughter. Alicia Kozakiewicz was kidnapped at the age of thirteen and held captive for four days. Instead of being bitter, angry and withdrawn ~ Alicia has conquered those demons in order to help other children. She graduated last week from college with plans to work with other abused children so they know they will survive. Don't let the pigtails and angel ribbons (note the angel ribbons were gifts to the family members from one of the riders as a special gift so we know we're not alone - beautiful...thank you) fool you. Alicia speaks with children and law enforcement, depending on her audience ~ she determines her look. The students at the schools were drawn to Alicia ~ the riders were in awe of her strength. Alicia was our opening speaker ~ she spoke with power and strength as she talked about how one missing person's flyer (hers) "crafted her miracle".
Thank you Alicia!
During the rest stop at Reese Elementary school, Alicia spoke with one of the 5th grade classrooms. She shared her story and encouraged them to trust the facts and strategies their parents were teaching them ~ "It can happen to anyone, it happened to me...It is an abosulute miracle I'm here..." Alicia and Mary spoke with the children with honesty and respect, at a level they understood and accepted. Through the dedication, strength and wisdom of two young ladies ~ students at the schools along the RMC route were exposed to an honest truth and hope. They could be a statistic unless they practice the lessons taught. Thank you Alicia and Mary for devoting time to your peers and children younger than you ~ to "Keep our children safer, one child at a time."
The clouds tried to dampen the morning yet the sun pushed them away! :) It was a glorious morning. The rain, thunder and lightning did make an appearance in the afternoon ~ forcing the riders into one of the designated "protection sites."
While waiting out the storm - we were blessed with shelter at a Russian-Bosnian church along the route. They were wonderful hosts ~ Thank you!
The next couple photos are from our forced rest stop ~ a time of resting and recouping.
And the ride concludes on Genesee Street ~ concluding at the Recreation Center. Pictures are unable to capture the Spirit of hope and dedication riding by.
Prior to the riders entrance ~ there is a procession of law enforcement sounding their sirens continuously. Each siren sounded ~ is one child returned home to their families!
Keep riding! Keep praying! Keep hoping!
There isn't a way to possibly share all that happened yesterday - I apologize if something was overlooked. For instance - At the Utica college the family was told we were going there so the "riders could regroup" instead we were saluted by 481 riders - 240 on either side of our family van and bus as a sign of their love and hope for us and our missing loved ones. Oh my goodness...I never pulled out the camera. The only thing I could reach for were my tissues for the remainder of the ride. It was breathtaking...heart moving and inspirational! Thank you to those behind the planning and to the riders pausing once again for us...you are amazing!
Balloons lifted for each missing child, each recovered child, for their families, for the RMC and most importantly -Sara Ann Wood to whom this ride has blossomed into such a powerful outreach and mission to keep our children safer.
And the artwork and hope of the recovered child and the neice who has never met her aunt!
At the conclusion of the ride each year, all gather for one last meal together and a closing ceremony. This year I was asked to share my experience of the day's ride. I was honored and blessed by this experience as I listened to Abby Potash and her son Sam share about his kidnapping and recovery, as Ed Smart talked about the overwhelming and powerful experience he had and the proactive effect they are having on their community. With Ahmad and Sayeh Rivazfar shared the impact of the ride on their lives - Sayeh and her sister were kidnapped at the same time, left to die. Sayeh rides for her sister Sarah and as a recovered child. She summed it up beautifully yet I can't recall her words but can still feel the lump in my throat. Thank you Ride for Missing Children Mohawk Valley!
Side Note: Tomorrow, Sunday, May 22nd – at 12:30 p.m. John, the manager of the Sun Up #7 (formerly D & W where Heidi was kidnapped from) will be working on the “Heidi Garden” located at the intersection of State Route 104 and 104B in the town of New Haven. All are invited to join in the fun of restoring the star garden created by our beloved New Haven community. If you have anything you would like to bring to help with the restoration and planting, it is welcome and appreciated. Due to a budget cut at the Sun Up #7, John’s resources are limited this year so he is hoping the community would like to join him with this project. Thanks everyone!
Lisa M Buske
P.O. Box 323