By Marian Dennis, The Mercury
Local law enforcement headed to the shore last weekend, but they left their beach attire behind.
During the early morning hours and amid record-breaking heat last weekend, Montgomery County law enforcement was breaking a sweat as they participated in a charitable bike ride that spanned all the way into Atlantic City.
The Tour de Shore is a long-standing tradition for many in Montgomery County, especially those in law enforcement. Each year, officers, detectives, prosecutors and others take part in the challenging ride as part of the “Wheels of Justice” team to benefit children of fallen heroes.
“This is my fourth time doing it,” said Lower Pottsgrove Police Chief Michael Foltz, who was participating despite a healing neck injury. “The weather was the hottest we’ve ever had. I believe it was around 101 or 104 degrees… I was struggling with neck pain but the heat was the thing. You really had to stay hydrated the whole time.”
Montgomery Country District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman agreed.
“This year was grueling. It was the hottest day in memory for me riding Tour de Shore. For most of the ride, I was not just drinking water but pouring water over my head as I rode. I doused myself with water and within a few moments it would be dry. It was just sweltering hot,” said Ferman.
The heat wasn’t the only challenge.
“Sometimes the conditions on the roadway were not ideal. People were falling and getting injured. During the course of the ride we heard ambulances. Notwithstanding all of that, it was the best time that I ever had,” Ferman said.
“I stopped to help out with a few mishaps and to help a fellow rider with a flat tire,” said Foltz. “There were half a dozen incidents where people crashed. There were definitely more accidents than I’ve seen in the past.”
The 65-mile long bike ride, which takes place every year in July, gathers cyclists beginning at the 20th Street Irish Pub in Philadelphia and takes them on a scenic ride through the Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey region, ending at the Pub’s original location in Atlantic City, according to the pub’s Facebook page.
The bike ride began more than 25 years ago and was created by Irish Pub owners Cathy Burke and Mark O’Connor as a way to give back to the community. One of its chief causes is to provide for the families of fallen heroes, a cause which, among others, has helped raise more than $4.2 million and gain more than 2,000 bikers since the ride began. Last year alone, the Tour de Shore raised $700,000 and was able to provide funds to more than 30 beneficiaries which varied from police organizations to youth sports. This year, the race surpassed its $800,000 fundraising goal.
“We ride in honor of many heroes, but the ride has taken on a very special meaning since Montgomery County lost Plymouth Township Officer Brad Fox in 2012,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. “We ride in Brad’s memory, in honor of our fallen hero, and we ride to honor the service and sacrifice of all our first responders who put their lives on the line every single day so that the rest of us can be safe.”
Montgomery County’s “Wheels of Justice” team were among five groups that reached a fundraising incentive tier allowing a donation to be made on their behalf. In addition, the 250-member team won the John Timoney Award from the Irish Pub Tour de Shore for the largest team and highest fundraising to benefit the Irish Pub Children’s Foundation. Since 2009, when the team started, they have raised $335,000 to support fallen heroes, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
“We do it for the cause and the kids and we know where the funds are going,” said Foltz. “It’s always an enjoyable experience. People think you’re crazy for doing it but I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship and it’s for a great cause.”
In addition to Foltz, the “Wheels of Justice” team members for the 2015 ride included Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele, Upper Merion Police Chief Thomas Nolan, Lower Merion Police Chief Michael J. McGrath, Sgts. Thomas McCloy and Michael Ponto and officer John Schmalbach of Pottstown Police.
“I know if something were to happen to me, to know that those funds are there to help my family and my children, it’s a good thing to know. When you get to the end and you see the portraits of the officers that gave their lives and the families that benefit from the ride, it’s a great feeling,” said Foltz.
Carl Hessler contributed to this report.