Last year, teacher Dave Floyd cycled in his first 100-mile Greater Capital District Ride for Missing Children, and when he circled into his elementary school in Latham for a water break with the other riders, it would have been easy to mistake him for a big-time rock star. A mega, arena-sized rock star.
The kids went wild, chanting, cheering, jumping and doing “the wave.”
Today, on a sunny and cool fall morning, he cycled into the school’s half circle driveway with three other teachers from the school – Kathy Haugan, Jackie Guba and Gretchen Mahan – who were pumping pedals on the ride for the first time. It was allapalooza. The kids were wildly pumped up. They bounced, cheered, and held homemade posters to support their teachers and promote safety.
“We were excited to become a part of it,” said Guba, a first grade teacher, standing outside Forts Ferry Elementary School. “It’s unbelievable to see them all there.”
“The energy that we get from the kids in all the schools is unbelievable,” said Haugan, who is a member of the North Colonie Teachers Association along with her fellow riders.
“It’s so incredible to see the kids respond. They are invested,” said Lisa Luyckx, Niskayuna TA member and a teacher at Birchwood Elementary School.
Mingling among the students is a small gathering of saddened parents, sisters, brothers, cousins of missing loved ones, who collect joy from the children like sunbeams. Some of the visitors have had family members who have been missing for years, and the toll shows in their faces and their slowed footsteps.
The students at each of the half-dozen schools the riders stop at have all been visited earlier this month by educators from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has central offices and regional centers in four states, including four in New York. Educators with this organization host safety assemblies in schools, providing youngsters with basic safety tips on abduction prevention, and high school and college students information on cyber security and keeping safe in communities and on campus.
The Ride for Missing Children raises money to help buy posters and fund searches for missing children.
Each rider pledges to raise at least $300. Local and state police, together with University at Albany campus police, help steer the ride and keep riders safe.
Raising money is not the only job. Getting in shape is priority.
Luyckx explained that commitment rides begin in the summer, and each rider has to join in at least three of the rides, which range from 25 to 60 miles.
“It’s a big time commitment,” she said. The commitment rides are held on a Saturday or Sunday so that those who may work during the week can participate.
“We introduce (the name and story about) a missing person at each ride,” she said. “We talk about why we ride.”
On the day of the ride, families of missing children ride along in a van to support the riders. They also honor their loved ones in ceremonies before, during and after. As part of the day’s events, a silent tribute is held where riders cycle by a location silently and a wreath is set out in honor of those who are missing. Family members hold up posters with the names of their missing children, parents and siblings.
This year, NYSUT headquarters in Latham was again the site of the silent ride by. Officers and staff came out to honor the teachers who are riding today, and the families they represent. Riders have photos of the missing pinned to their pink tops. Some of them have a name on the back of their bike indicating whom they are riding for.
By the morning of the ride, $26,923 had already been pledged.
The bicycles, declares the Ride for Missing Children website, “are simply a vehicle to help carry the message along.” That message of prevention and education is as important as the message to remember and honor those missing.
Remember these names: Craig Frear. Suzanne Lyall. Colin Gillis. Chelsea Cobo. Audrey Herron. Christine Betty Lowe.
Remember this phone number: 1-800-843-5678. That’s 1-800-THE-LOST.
To refresh faces, visit these posters below, which the NCMEC enhances to show age progression: