FORT WAYNE – Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating Wednesday for a bike ride across part of the Hoosier State, but for Jim Berlien and 14 other bicyclists, sultry weather and afternoon thunderstorms couldn’t stop them from honoring fallen Indiana heroes.
Late Wednesday morning, the 15 cyclists, part of the 11th annual Cops Cycling for Survivors bicycle ride, pedaled to the Law Enforcement/Firefighters Memorial on Wells Street for a short service and meal honoring fallen public safety workers.
Berlien, 65, of Fort Wayne retired last year and said he agreed to ride when fellow bicycling enthusiast and retired Allen County officer John Heath told him about the tour.
“I’m a friend of the police, and I wanted to come out to support them,” he said.
Although he plans to participate in only five of the 13 days on the road, Berlien said he has already made memories with the other men and women on the tour.
“We do a lot of visiting, especially since we’re together every day and night,” he said.
Heath, also a resident of Fort Wayne, said getting to know the others throughout the ride is one of the best things about it.
Heath has been participating in the ride for the past five years and each year meets lots of new people while also connecting with some of the returning riders.
“I have probably 15 or 20 people who I’ve become really good friends with over the years,” Heath said. “… It’s rewarding to get together to ride for such a good cause.”
Although they have plenty of laughs along the way and tease other riders by giving them silly nicknames and joking about each other’s quirks, the riders also set aside time to reflect on, and pay tribute to, the men and women who lost their lives while serving the Hoosier State.
Each day, the riders share stories about fallen police officers during their stops at towns and cities throughout the state, Indiana State Police Trooper Rich Crawford said.
Some of the stories about law officials and their heroic acts date back to the 1800s, Crawford said.
“More often times than not, we stand around and just read these to the group of cyclists,” Crawford said, referring to the pages of stories about officers killed in the line of duty.
Crawford, who spearheads the annual ride, said this year’s tour will bring together 52 riders by the end of the 13 days.
Wednesday marked the third day of the bicyclists’ statewide trek.
Crawford took over as leader of the annual bicycle tour after the ride’s founder, Indiana State Police Lt. Gary Dudley, was killed about seven years ago near Perrysville in western Indiana after a collision while riding with the group.
On Wednesday, a group of about 25 supporters, including several police officers and sheriff’s deputies, gathered at the memorial, cheering and clapping as the riders arrived.
Most of the supporters Wednesday stayed to shake hands with the group of riders before heading back to work as the cyclists prepared to take off again.
The riders left Bluffton on Wednesday morning, made a short stop in Fort Wayne for lunch and planned to ride to Angola for the night. The statewide tour continues through July 20.
The flags at the memorial flew at half-staff, honoring the 19 Arizona firefighters killed while battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire.
“We’re riding for police officers, but we all wear the uniform,” Crawford said, as he called for a moment of silence for all public safety heroes. “We’re all one group.”