53d Rides to Retire the Debt

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Leonhard
  • 53d Wing Public Affairs
Three cycling enthusiasts from the 53d Wing joined more than 100 riders and support crews recently to ride in the second annual "Ride to Retire the Debt" event held in Okeechobee, Fla.

The March 26 and 27 event helped raise money to pay off a nearly $8 million debt the Air Force Enlisted Village incurred when they opened the Hawthorn House in September 2005. The bicycle ride was a two-day 120 mile journey around Lake Okeechobee, the second largest fresh water lake located in the United States.

According to Pat Tye, AFEV marketing staff member and the event organizer, this year's ride raised more than $22,000, with donations still coming in.

The organizer had a lot of praise for the participation and support of the 53d Wing.

"Walt [Master Sgt. Walter Greene Jr., 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron] was able to drum up a lot of pledges last year, and now with added riders this year, that only increased," she said.

Sergeant Greene, who's been riding "forever," has done distance road riding for about nine years - which adds up to approximately 35,000 miles.

"I participated in the inaugural biking event, last year and I'll do it every year, as long as I'm not assigned overseas," said the Washington D.C. native. "The people out at the Enlisted Village are top notch and I would do anything for them. Plus the event is an absolutely fabulous way to challenge yourself while surrounding yourself with some of the most positive-thinking folks you can ever hope to know - cyclist."

Another member of the cycling trio that joined Sergeant Greene was Staff Sgt. Alice Forrester, 68th Electronic Warfare Squadron.

"My squadron pretty much supplied me with everything I needed," said Sergeant Forrester. "I didn't know there was a difference between road bikes and mountain bikes."

Not only did she start from scratch to get her equipment, she had to learn some of the basics.

"I've never ridden a bicycle in my adult life, ever. I seriously didn't even know how to change gears at first," said the rookie rider. "I practiced in my neighborhood for about five minutes on the Saturday before the event. I couldn't control my balance very well, but my husband lowered the seat a bit and it helped. I figured I'd either sink or swim, and it was time to doggie-paddle."

After completing the two-day event, she said it was all worth it.

"I felt a great sense of accomplishment. This was a first for me so my main goal was to complete the ride," she said. "I was unbelievably sore as far as my 'seating' area was concerned."

The final member of the 53d trio who helped raise more than $2,400 toward this year's total was Master Sgt. Roy Grubbs, 53d Test Management Group and wing staff first sergeant.

"I had to buy a bike to do this. Luckily once you learn how to ride as a kid you never forget," said the shirt. "It was great meeting a new 'breed' of people. Everyone was there to enjoy the ride and we all did. There's a lot of built-in camaraderie. Everyone is willing to help each other out."

That camaraderie is exactly why Ms. Tye and Sue Holler, her colleague and cycling buddy, conceived the Ride to Retire the Debt event.

"I can't think of another cause that would get me to ride 120 miles, but this mission is so worthwhile," said Ms. Tye. "You spend any time with our residents and you can't help but be grateful for their service to the Air Force.

"The ride was a huge success," she said. "Everyone who participated for the two days of fun and fundraising deserve special thanks. One hundred percent of all pledges collected will be applied directly to retiring the Hawthorn House construction debt."