Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
Biking for Babies was on a roll this summer.
On Saturday afternoon, July 13, a group of 11 bicyclists peddled into Chicago right on schedule, finishing an 1,100-mile trek over eight days through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.
Every spin of the tires was meant to raise money for specific pro-life venues and to spread the culture-of-life message.
For this fifth annual fundraising adventure, 11 guys and gals averaged more than 140 miles a day once they took to their bicycles and started from New Orleans on July 6.
In 2012, taking basically the same route, Biking for Babies raised more than $32,000. Among the eight places in as many states that they helped were the John Paul II Life Center in Austin, Texas, Life Network of Southern Illinois, A Women’s Care Center in Madison, Wis., and Pro-Life Mississippi.
The goal for 2013 and the same eight pro-life and crisis-pregnancy centers was $50,000.
When riders ended the journey in Chicago, they went to Mass, then family, friends and well-wishers joined them for a dinner celebration at the Blue Star Restaurant. Vicki Thorne, the founder of Project Rachel, was the guest speaker.
A couple of days after the dust had settled, Mike Schaefer and Jimmy Becker, the co-founders of Biking for Babies, recapped some highlights of the ride.
The men co-founded Biking for Babies back in 2009, when both were students at the University of Illinois. They started this initiative to promote the dignity of life from conception to natural death.
They were the only two participants on that first ride, which they assumed was going to be a one-time effort of 636 miles confined to the borders of Illinois. But they raised nearly $15,000 and were inspired to make it an annual event that became this crossing-America ride.
“This year, we did very well with fundraising,” a pleased Mike Schafer said. “We ended up clearing $60,000.”
That was among both big and little highlights of this year’s ride. He said another was that this year saw the most riders join them.
Becker added another highlight. He shared: “When we finally got to Chicago, something Vicki Thorne said resonated with me: 'The more you get into pro-life initiatives, sometimes unexpected things happen, but you can’t get frustrated when they do.'"
The unexpected inconveniences began the first day, but none dampened anyone’s steady joy.
Becker described the mix-up about overnight accommodations when everyone rode into New Orleans at 10:30pm the night before the big start.
By the time the problem was solved, everyone got a mere three hours of sleep before the 5am departure time for their first-day ride of well over 100 miles.
“Starting with limited sleep, you’d expect people to respond a little grumpy, but everybody responded with kindness and joy-filled hearts,” Becker reported. “'This is life!’ one upbeat rider said.”
Nor did the weather bother anyone, even later in the ride, when the heat index hit 110 degrees, pointed out Schaefer. Riders didn’t get lax or lose their upbeat outlook.
Becker said there was clearly “a tremendous amount of grace filling the hearts of each rider and support member.”
Along the way, the riders got loads of positive responses and lots of people wanting to pray with them.
Schaefer describes the surprising time one woman spontaneously broke into a Southern gospel song for the group.
Although several times the riders pulled in a couple of hours beyond their expected arrival time at the parish where they were scheduled to stay for the night, Schaefer recalled how the few dozen families and people waiting faithfully all that time to welcome them “were still excited to see us.”
Upon arrival, he and Becker would give a little talk about the riders and the purpose. Many riders also shared their thoughts in short videos along the way (posted at Biking for Babies).
Opportunities for an extended reflection also filled their one day off during the ride, when the riders talked about God and shared why and for whom they were doing the ride.
“It was beautiful to see all they had to share and very encouraging to have that time to see where everyone was coming from,” Becker noted.
Over five years, this annual ride has raised more than $150,000 for pregnancy-resource centers.
Already, the co-founders are looking to continue their mission of renewing the culture of life in America.
“We’ll be adding more long-distance routes converging in Chicago,” Schaefer said enthusiastically.
“And we’ll allow people to ride for a few days or even one day. The bottom line is expanding the possibilities for people to have a more diverse range of involvement with Biking for Babies, so there are not simply a few people bicycling 1,000 miles or just donating.” (Donations for this year’s completed ride can still be made through Biking for Babies' website.)
The idea gained momentum this year as two priests joined for one day. So did two former riders.
Becker identified the priests: Father Joe Coffey, a U.S. Navy chaplain in the St. Louis area, and the group’s chaplain, Legionary Father Michael Moriarity.
“It was like an extended family reunion and a surprise for all those participating in the event to see familiar faces,” Becker said joyfully.
He also explained the big addition already planned for next year’s ride.
“We will be starting a new route in Austin, Texas, that will begin at the same time as the route starting in New Orleans. Both teams will complete their respective course starting on July 6 and merge together in Chicago on July 14.”
It’s a preview for their ultimate vision. As Becker explained: “Our hope is to eventually have a representative rider from every state linked with a specific pregnancy center in the state they will be riding to support.”