Randy Downs has long been an avid cyclist, but for the last two weeks, he’s been riding for a different reason.
Downs is one of 11 cyclists who took part in Freedom Ride 2011, a 1,035 biking trek from Atlanta to New York City to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“We’re riding for the 343 firemen that died and the survivors,” said Downs, who works for the Columbus Fire Department and is a diver for the Columbus EMS dive team, as well as a paramedic supervisor for Harris County EMS.
The 11 riders, several who are public safety personnel like Downs, began their journey in Atlanta on August 26. They rode into North Carolina, through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, then into Maryland and New Jersey before ending their journey in New York City today.
Cyclists rode between 50 and 100 miles each day. During a phone conversation earlier this month, Downs said the trek had been rough in places but they’ve received a lot of support and donations from the communities they’ve traveled through.
“We have had people come up and donate stuff to us,” he said. “People are coming out and waving and talking to us. It’s really been something.”
The team has a crew of volunteers traveling with them to carry supplies and help care for the bikes. Downs likened it to being on the Tour de France. “I don’t have to get off my bike,” he said.
Riders are also accepting donations to benefit the Atlanta Fire Foundation programs and a New York City based 9/11 fund. Today, they hope to present an American flag to the 9/11 survivors during a ceremony in New York City.
As a firefighter, Downs said thinking about the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks left him speechless.
“As I’ve been thinking about it, I still can’t put it into words,” he said. “I’m grateful that we’re doing something. It’s one of those things. You know you’re glad you’re doing it.”
Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469