When the annual Ride to Montauk gets under way June 16, Joe Slaninka will be among friends. And co-workers. And relatives. And friends of friends. One hundred of them to be exact.
About 3,000 bicyclists, including Slaninka's 101-member Team Viscardi, will cycle to the easternmost point in New York State from routes of their choosing, which begin in Manhattan and include several starting points on Long Island. Their journey will end at the Montauk Point Lighthouse.
The annual bike ride, which began in the late 1960s, is a fairly new experience for Slaninka and other team members representing the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson. Last year was their first time participating. Slaninka almost single-handedly recruited 26 riders who raised $17,000 to support the school, which educates nearly 200 students aged 3 to 21 who have severe physical disabilities and limited mobility, and Abilities, a related facility for disabled adults. This year, the team hopes to raise at least $50,000.
"I convinced a lot of my friends to do the bike ride with me," Slaninka said. "It's beach. It's water, the big mansions. It was very gratifying for me. Everybody who started finished. Everybody loved it."
Slaninka, 41, an assistant teacher at Viscardi who has spina bifida, a congenital disorder, will again ride on a hand-cycle, a three-wheel bike designed for the disabled that is powered by hand. He hopes to complete the 108-mile route, the second longest of the ride.
There in spirit
Some of Viscardi's students, who also receive medical care at the school, have difficulty speaking or have auditory or other impairments. Though no students are participating in the ride, that doesn't mean they don't wish they could.
"If I could, I would do it," said Kevin Gomes, 18. Added schoolmate Christopher Ioannou, 17, "I love the people helping the kids. It gets the word out about our school."
With Ride to Montauk, Team Viscardi hopes to raise awareness about the school and attract donations for equipment and services not provided by government funding.
"In today's world with these budget cuts I wanted to create something through which we could raise money that would benefit the children educationally and recreationally," Slaninka said. "Last year, we were able to fix and maintain wheelchairs, buy a new scoreboard for the gym, and we have a [basketball] mascot."
John D. Kemp, president and chief executive of the school, said this year's pledges could support after-school programs, academic intervention systems and the school's adaptive sports program.
At Viscardi, Slaninka supervises the school's breakfast and lunch program, "making sure the children eat well and safely and that everyone is happy." He also ensures that Team Viscardi is well prepared for the Ride to Montauk, which takes cyclists over four routes with distances of 30, 73, 108 or 152 miles, starting at Penn Station in Manhattan and on Long Island at the Babylon and Mastic-Shirley Long Island Rail Road stations, as well as the former Water Mill LIRR station.
To get in shape, Team Viscardi members -- who will wear blue and white jerseys -- did practice rides on weekends. No one has signed up for the 152-mile route.
Dina Levanti, of West Islip, a physical education teaching assistant who plans to ride the 108-mile route, offers guidance about nutrition and how teammates can prepare their bodies to complete their chosen route.
The school's chief development officer, Lauren Marzo of New Hyde Park, said she hopes to complete the shortest route, which is 30 miles.
"Even 30 is a long ride, but every person on Team Viscardi is motivated to do this ride for the kids," she said.
Plainview resident Lisa Gross, whose daughter, Rachel, is a 10th grader and uses a wheelchair, said, "I'm riding because my daughter can't." She has signed up for the 108-mile route.
Some team members who are not riding will staff the rest stop at Amagansett -- the last of several located every 25 miles along the route, where riders can relax and change their bike tires.
They can also refresh themselves with water, sports drinks, energy bars and homemade pie with whipped cream made on the spot, hummus with pita, whole grain breads, Long Island grapes and strawberries, carved mangoes, muffins and pound cake in six flavors.
A 'fun' ride
Ride to Montauk director Glen Goldstein volunteered at the ride for 15 years under two previous organizers and has directed his version of it for the past five years as a "fun" event.
"We pedal on quiet back roads past mansions, the ocean, farms, windmills and the most beautiful sections of the Hamptons," said Goldstein, 52. "Whenever possible, we are off the highway. The routes are mostly flat but get hilly five miles to the finish.
"We ride rain or shine," he added. "This year, about 250 signed up for the long [152 mile] ride. I love them, but they're nuts."
The event is not a race, but riders must get to the finish line by 6 p.m. There they will find all-you-can-eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, hot showers, free massages and a finish-line party.
Recalling the 100 miles he rode last year, Slaninka said, "It's a lot of hard work. But everybody's pumped; everybody's excited. It's very cool. It's a big, happy thing."
Sign up to Ride
Register online at Active.com or call 888-543-7223 Sign up by June 6 and pay a $92 fee; thereafter the fee is $112
Online registration will be available until noon June 13. For a $200 cash-only fee, riders can register on the day of the ride at the check-in location for each of the four routes where riders set off.
There are no refunds and helmets are mandatory
Children 12 and younger ride free but must be registered
Riders should note that bicycles are banned from the Long Island Rail Road on weekends
More details available at ridetomontauk.com
To pledge to Team Viscardi, contact Joe Slaninka at: Jslaninka@henryviscardischool.org or visit abilitiesonline.org/ride.aspx