After spending four days riding almost 400 miles from Newtown, Conn., the cyclists of Team 26 pedaled down Constitution Avenue through the rain Tuesday with a police escort leading them to the Capitol.
“I turned to a buddy of mine and I said, ‘Is this really happening?” said Monte Frank, the team’s leader. “It was incredible.”
Frank’s daughter, Sarah, graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary School two years ago. Her third-grade teacher, Victoria Soto, was a victim of the shooting in December.
For weeks afterward, Frank said he had trouble sleeping and wanted to figure out a way to spark change in the gun-control debate. In the middle of the night, Frank said he got the idea to organize a charity ride.
“Everybody jumped in with both feet and we started planning and recruited the rest of our teammates for Team 26,” Frank said.
The 26 riders, one for each victim of the Sandy Hook shootings, left Newtown Saturday morning wearing jerseys of white and green, the elementary school’s colors.
A few teachers, a Vietnam veteran and several parents and a police officer from Newtown were among the riders.
Along the road, the riders were greeted by cheering crowds, honking horns and messages of support. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was the victim of a shooting two years ago, tweeted: “If your legs get tired, remember we’re in this together keep pedaling! Best wishes to our friends on #newtown2dc ride against gun violence.”
“It’s amazing how much people are inspired by it,” rider Aidan Charles said.
Just before arriving in the District, Team 26 stopped in College Park, where they were joined by three members of the Virginia Tech Victims Cycling team. Tommy Fadoul, 27, helped form the team with Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
“To ride this last stage with them was really meaningful,” Fadoul said. “I think the main thing is about collaboration. It’s bringing people together for a common good, and that’s what we tried to symbolize with our participation today.”
Upon arriving at the Capitol, the riders were greeted by each member of the Connecticut congressional delegation for a rally in which they spoke about the importance of gun-control legislation. Frank handed Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) two letters, one from Chris and Lynn McDonnell, whose daughter Grace was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, and one signed by 32 family members of the victims.
Blumenthal said he would deliver the letters to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then announced that the committee had approved two bills earlier in the day, one to expand the background-check system and another to fund school security plans.
Frank said the riders were on the road when the news that the bills had been approved reached him.
“We were cold and we were wet, and that gave us a little bit of wind at our backs,” he said. “There was a huge cheer.”