A charity bike ride leads to meditation, church experience
A few weeks ago, I joined about 230 others on a 100-kilometer (62-mile) fundraiser bike ride called Pat Mac’s Pack Ride, riding from my parish, St. Barnabas Church on the south side of Chicago, to Notre Dame Parish in Indiana for the benefit of pediatric brain tumor research.
The ride is in honor of Patrick McNamara, a parishioner from St. Barnabas who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 2. Patrick has endured more than a dozen brain surgeries, chemotherapy and countless radiation treatments over a period of more than 10 years. I didn’t know Patrick, but it’s clear to those who did that he never lost his spirit and love for family and friends. After Patrick died at the age of 13, his parents, Tom and Dee McNamara, organized the bike ride to raise funds for pediatric brain cancer research. This year was the eighth drive to Notre Dame in Michigan City.
Pat Mac’s Pack Ride also provides direct assistance to young cancer patients and their families. In addition, the foundation works to raise awareness of this devastating disease.
To paraphrase Venerable Catherine McAuley, “Very little good is accomplished or evil avoided without the aid of money.” Now that the ride is complete in 2022, $1 million has been raised for the cause since its inception. Thanks to a slew of dedicated volunteers and sponsors, every dollar raised by riders — more than $280,000 this year alone — goes directly to research and families. Again, this is only possible thanks to the time, talent and donations of so many local families and businesses – the community – who are compassionately standing by the McNamara family and covering the cost of the ride and after-party so that 100% of the Riders- The funds raised go where they are intended.
After a personal invitation from someone who had done this ride, I decided to participate and started training, even though I had never ridden more than 30 miles. We left St Barnabas at 6am when I crossed the finish line at Notre Dame, 6 hours and 1 minute and 72 miles later (I took two wrong turns turning the 100km into a 115km), I was exhausted, my Quads felt that way even though they burned and yet I was thrilled. And that was before the delicious post-race meal with both hydrating and draining drinks. The stations along the way were also well stocked with water and delicious snacks. I’m afraid I’ve consumed more calories on the go than I’ve burned under the sun.
The ride was tiring but very enjoyable. The mix of rest stop chatter and silence between miles of Erie-Lackawanna and Calumet trails facilitated a meditation on the grandeur of creation; about beauty and pain. Other moments of meditation focused on the innate relationship we humans have between our individual endeavors and those of the groups or communities to which we belong. If I hadn’t tried to keep up with others or gotten a little encouragement, especially in the last few miles, I probably would have slowed down a lot and wouldn’t have finished as strong. It seems much easier to go through difficulties in life and to end them when we are not alone.
Just before crossing the finish line, I passed a large mosaic of Our Lady on the outside of the church, depicted in the Orans position, an attitude of prayer. It made me think of the dubious (Oh god, not another 12 miles!) and sincere prayers (May this trip comfort families with pediatric brain cancer through our presence and the research it funds), which I said in silence. I also thought of the most earnest prayers that need to be said by children with cancer and their families.
I believe prayer is an expression of hope: hope that God will hear us; hope that our request or request or intention is worth realizing; hope that God’s will and ours will intersect; hope that children will not suffer the inexplicable cruelty, immense pain and loss of life of childhood cancer.
This image and the accompanying thoughts reminded me of how the race started 70 miles west. Before departing at 6 a.m., in the care of a police escort through some very busy Chicago streets, we drivers were reminded why we signed up for this ride: to come together as a community to honor Patrick McNamara and with his family and showing solidarity with his family others whose children are battling cancer – some of these families were present at the farewell. Before the bagpipes sounded and we turned onto Longwood Drive to begin the race, the church pastor reminded us that our coming together through the prayers and material support raised for these families was the best of fellowship. And he finished his blessing by asking us all to recite the Ave Maria.
As I sat down at the after-ride party, my mind wandered back to this mosaic and reflected on my first, but certainly not last, Pat Mac’s 100K ride. Although this ride was not shrouded in piety or devotion or any sacraments administered, this ride, in bringing us together and building fellowship, demonstrated a holiness in the world that perhaps enlivened gospel worship.
In my six hours on the bike and a few more under a tent full of food, stories, and friendships, I’ve certainly experienced church, being church, and being church to others. In Italy, Spain, France or Michigan City, Indiana, may Our Lady watch over us, protect us and hasten the day when childhood cancer research will produce a cure. Until this hopeful prayer is answered, I look forward to this bike ride and to seeing this mosaic of Mary, herself praying, at the finish line.