WASHINGTON – Team 26 isn’t your ordinary cycling team.
This group of riders is named for the 26 children and adults who were killed in the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012.
And they’re riding from Newtown to Washington, D.C. to with a message.
“We think we have met the ‘real’ America and the ‘real’ America is tired of the epidemic of gun violence,” says ride leader Monte Frank, a bike racer and a Connecticut resident. His own daughters attended Sandy Hook and were taught by Victoria Soto, one of the teachers killed that day in December.
Frank organized the team which included Chris McDonnell, who rode with the group for the first 26 miles when the ride kicked off on Saturday.
McDonnell’s daughter Grace was among the children who died at Sandy Hook.
“Chris has been a really important part of our team,” says Frank, who explains the memory of Grace and her classmates has kept the group of riders fired up along the 400-mile trip.
“When I say Grace is on our wheel, it essentially means that Grace is pushing us along.”
Frank isn’t the only one who feels that way. He says one rider was flagging, but refused to give up saying, “I’ve got 26 angels pushing me along.”
And while Frank understands that gun rights advocates may differ on the issue of gun restrictions, he says his group has enjoyed a lot of support along the ride.
“People are on the side of the road clapping.” And at one point, he says, “a guy in a white pick-up truck rolls up along side us, rolls down his window and says ‘Hey, we saw you guys on the news this morning, thank you so much for what you are doing.'”
Before riding into D.C. to meet at the Capitol, the group will meet up with members of the Virginia Tech cycling team. Frank says Virginia Tech alum and rider Omar Samaha told him that his team would follow the Sandy Hook riders, but Frank insisted the two teams would ride side by side.
“Newtown is Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is Newtown. This is an American problem, so we’re real proud to roll into D.C. with the Virginia Tech cycling team.”