NISKAYUNA — Shouts and cheers greeted around 50 cyclists on the Ride for Missing Children as they made their first school stop of the day at Birchwood Elementary on Friday.
Lisa Luyckx, a fourth-grade teacher at Birchwood, and Laura Mirkovic, a Birchwood parent, were among the cyclists. As soon as students caught sight of the pair riding side-by-side, their cheers grew even louder.
The Ride for Missing Children began in 1995 when seven men cycled from Utica to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and support for the search of missing children. The movement has grown since then and rides take place in Utica, Rochester and Syracuse every year with the same focus: to honor those who have missing family members; to bring awareness to communities where children have gone missing and to raise funds for community education and poster distribution.
The ride in the Capital Region on Friday took cyclists from the University at Albany campus to Birchwood Elementary, Forts Ferry, Clifton Park and the New York State Museum.
Seasoned cyclists who have been training for the 100-mile ride across the Capital Region have a motto: Your toughest day on the bike isn’t as hard as one day in the life of someone with a missing family member.
“All throughout the ride, there are silent tributes,” Luyckx said. At certain points along the route, family members of missing children stood as cyclists rode by, paying tribute to the loved one who is missing.
“I started cycling in this about four years ago because my son’s friend went missing,” Luyckx said.
Craig Frear went missing in 2004. Authorities continue to search for him today.
Matt Frear, Craig’s brother, helped to organize the logistics behind the ride, which has been going on for nine years in the Capital Region.
At the Birchwood stop, Matt stopped to let kids sign the back of his jersey (which had a photo of Craig on it) and talk with them about safety.
“I didn’t realize when I signed up for this just how emotional it was going to be,” Mirkovic said.
Every Saturday throughout the summer, the cyclists would gather together for some practice rides.
“A lot of people who are cycling have family members who are missing and you end up talking about it,” Mirkovic said.
This bond was important not only for inspiration but also because of the nature of the 100-mile ride. The cyclists had a strict route schedule and had to keep pace with one another, going 14 to 17 miles per hour starting at 7:30 a.m. and finishing up around 4:45 p.m.
“We have a sag wagon just in case anything happens though,” Luyckx said. Throughout the route, the cyclists are escorted by police cars and a truck carrying extra supplies.
To further support the cause, each cyclist has to raise $500 to ride.
“That goes towards making the missing posters,” Luyckx said. It also goes toward programs that help to educate the community.
More than 8.15 million posters have been distributed since 1995 for 8,419 children. According to the Ride for Missing Children’s website, 6,044 children who have been featured on the posters have been successfully recovered.
When Luyckx started cycling 12 years ago, she was surprised and discouraged at how challenging it was.
“I didn’t love it at first because it’s really hard work,” Luyckx said. On the morning of the ride, there was no lack of enthusiasm from Luyckx or fellow riders.
Stella and Kosta, Mirkovic’s daughter and son, were out to cheer their mom on and to help spread some awareness themselves.
“I’m really proud of my mom for doing this,” Stella, a seventh-grader at Iroquois Middle School, said.
As the cyclists took a short breakfast break at Birchwood, they passed out pencils, greeted kids and talked safety.
Reach Gazette reporter Indiana Nash at 417-9362, email@example.com or @indijnash on Twitter.