http://www.uticaod.com/homepage/x1191421503/First-timers-eager-for-bike-rideGreen: "It's a great feeling, to know you're not alone."
By ROCCO LaDUCA
Posted May 16, 2008 @ 07:59 AM
Last update May 16, 2008 @ 10:03 PM
ONEIDA COUNTY — The bikes are rolling as the annual Ride for Missing Children winds through Oneida and Herkimer counties.
A record 411 riders, including 102 first-timers, plan to participate in today’s ride, which aims to raise awareness about missing and exploited children, honor missing children, instruct children on how to stay safe and raise money for posters that could help bring missing children home.
O-D reporter Rocco LaDuca is talking to riders and spectators along the route.
"It's a great feeling, to know you're not alone."
While hundreds of bicyclists encountered cheering crowds throughout their journey today, the cheers fell silent as they passed through Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy.
The silent tribute at the prison was meant to honor those missing children who would never be returning home, and perhaps also to send the message that so many people remain strong in the face of their tragedies.
One mother who has not given up hope on ever finding her daughter is the mother of Ivory Green, who went missing in 2004 while walking to her Utica home.
The spirit of Ivory's mother, Shirlette Green, still remained uplifting as she greeted all of the riders arriving at New York Mills Central School in late morning.
"We all come together for one cause: to bring our kids home safely," Shirlette Green said with a photo of Ivory on her chest.
"It does give me hope and makes me want to keep trusting God, like I have been doing," she added. "It's a great feeling, to know you're not alone."
12:30 P.M.Youth inspired
Earlier in the morning, Courtney Deyulio, 17, was also inspired as drove past her cheering classmates at Clinton Central School.
"It was awesome," Deyulio said. "My whole high school was out there. I loved it."
Deyulio said she decided to ride two years ago after attending the closing ceremony in New Hartford.
"Once I heard all the parents talking about their stories, I had to do it," she said. "I'm kind of addicted to it now."
And like Ivory Green's mother, Deyulio said it is impressive to find so many people coming together all for one cause.
"You could just tell everyone cares so much," Deyulio said with a big smile.
Although the ride is physically exhausting in the end, seeing so many smiles on so many faces makes it all worthwhile, she said.
"You crash on your bed, but you still feel good at the end of the day," Deyulio said.
10:49 A.M. Stop in Westmoreland brings the riders to children
The Ride arrived at Westmoreland Elementary School shortly after 9 a.m., where Fourth grader Konner Farrell, 10, was among the cheering children.
Konner was holding the "T" as he and his other classmates spelled out "Thank You" for the riders.
"I feel like it's good, because they're trying to find kids, and you can't give up hope," said Konner, who is one of Laura Fruscella's students.
Moments later, the children began to sign 14-year-old Conrad Stafford's bicycle uniform. This is Stafford's first year riding, he said.
Stafford, of New Hartford, said he wanted to participate in the ride this time because he understands the rules children should remember to avoid being swept up by a stranger one day.
"Just say no, and don't go," Stafford explained. "We're just here to show the kids what they should do, and shouldn't do."
And that's exactly the same reason Karen LaScala, 55, of New Hartford, decided to participate for the first time this year as well, she said as she ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during the Westmoreland stop.
The Ride for Missing Children, in its 12th year, has its origins following the 1993 disappearance of Sara Anne Wood as she rode her bicycle along a rural road in Herkimer County.
"I can still remember where I was when Sara disappeared, and the helicopters flying overheard as they looked for her," LaScala said.
In 1995, Sara's father and several other people rode bicycles to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness toward the plight of missing children. Over the years, that initial journey grew into the annual Ride for Missing Children.
"The whole educational aspect has grown out of Sara's family tragedy," LaScala said.
LaScala then became emotional as she expressed how she felt upon riding into the sea of the children's smiling, cheering faces.
"I think if one kid stays safe because of I did this today ... it will be a great thing," she said. "We want them to understand that, unfortunately, not everyone is your friend anymore."
After paying silent tribute at the Byrne Dairy in Kirkland where New Hartford police Officer Joseph Corr was shot and killed in February 2006, the ride passed through Clinton and Myles schools, where student bands played and flags waved.
9:02 A.M.Encouraged to remember
Moments before the opening ceremony, Nick Cuda, 17, of Whitesboro, prepared to participate in his third Ride for Missing Children.
During the 105-mile journey, riders will be periodically stopping at various schools to mingle with children, and that's what Cuda likes most.
"I just love how the kids are so excited to see you," Cuda said alongside his friend, Ray Ferrone, 16, who this year is riding for the second time. "I just love the whole reason for the ride: to raise posters for missing children."
State police Trooper Jim Simpson encouraged every rider to show their appreciation for the children who will greet them at every school, such as Westmoreland and Holland Patent.
"You're their heroes today," Simpson said. "Mingle with them, shakes their hands - that means a lot to them." BY THE NUMBERS
This year's Ride for Missing Children begins at 7:45 a.m. today at state police Troop D Headquarters in Oneida. A closing ceremony will take place between 7:05 and 7:25 p.m. at the New Hartford Recreational Center.
The ride by the numbers:
● 12: Years the event has taken place.
● 411: The record number of riders in the event this year.
● 359: Riders last year.
● 150 plus: Volunteers this year.
● 102: First-time riders this year.
● 102: Miles in this year's ride.
● 2.1: The length in miles the riders take up at any time during the ride.
● 5: Recovered children involved with the event (three riding in the event).
● 51: People involved in the event from more than 30 families affected by missing children.
● 17: Local schools to be visiting during today's ride.
● 500: The minimum number of dollars each rider must raise.
● 5,237,313: Posters distributed for 3,603 missing children since 1995 by the Mohawk Valley Office of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
● 2,152: Of the 3,603 missing children who were successfully recovered.
"We must protect our children…”
John Mazzaferro, who is city council president in Rome, wore a picture of missing Kristena Steward on his chest as he prepared to begin his second year riding.
As a former teacher, Mazzaferro said he has a special concern for all youths.
"This is a cause that I feel is extremely important," Mazzaferro said as he sat among a sea of pink, purple, blue, yellow, and white bicycle uniforms at state police Troop D headquarters in Oneida. "We must protect our children, and keep them safe through education and awareness."Families of the missing join in
With the opening ceremony under way, Ride for Missing Children chair Frank Williams said 53 parents and family members of missing children will be riding with or supporting roughly 400 riders this year. Seven parents will be riding anonymously, he said.
"Each of them is grateful for the strength you give them as they continue to search for their children," Williams said.
The crowd also broke out in applause when Williams announced that five recovered missing children will be among the group today. Two recovered children, he said, will be waiting at the finish line in New Hartford to say "Welcome home."
"Words we wish we could say to all our missing children," Williams said. Bill Frear was among the parents who spoke to the riders about his own missing son, Craig, who was last seen leaving his friend's house in Scotia, NY, in 2004.
"We have hope that maybe — maybe — he is out there," Frear said. "We still have hope because of this ... "
Frear then held up his wrist to reveal a bracelet one of the riders gave him at last year's event.
"It has not been off my wrist since that day," Frear said.