Phil Kingsbury took up biking because he wanted to escape the fate of his father, who died in his 40s from a heart attack.
At 48, the Wantagh man grabbed a bike and took off, riding about 6 miles per trip here and there. But his rides began to lengthen as he rode with an 88-year-old neighbor who had biked more than 150,000 miles over the years.
That neighbor, Frank Peckham, now deceased, outbiked Kingsbury during their first ride together despite the hills, Kingsbury recalled. He also taught him about the potential people have.
Kingsbury, now 62 and retired, is heading into his third self-created single-person marathon Thursday evening. He is attempting to ride the farthest anyone in his age division has completed in a 24-hour period. The Wantagh cyclist is aiming to bike 400 miles outdoors — in 400 1-mile laps — by Friday evening at Cedar Creek Park to raise money in honor of a Dix Hills cyclist he never knew.
Matthew Scarpati, 19, was biking on the Wantagh State Parkway bike path in July 2009 when he was killed by a motorcyclist who veered off the parkway and struck him. The motorcyclist, James Ryan, of New Hyde Park, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 to 9 years in prison.
The teenager’s death inspired his parents, Jim and Lynn, to start the Miles for Matt Foundation, which honors Scarpati by supporting students and promoting safety measures for other cyclists.
The Scarpatis have pushed for such measures as a guardrail to protect bikers on the Wantagh State Parkway, which lacked a shoulder lane and allowed speeds up to 55 mph. The rail, which now protects bikers, runners and walkers, has been completed.
“I did not know him,” Kingsbury said of Matthew Scarpati. “I know him in spirit. I carry him in my heart throughout the ride, and he is with me.”
Kingsbury will be supported in his ride by his friend Andrew Hager of Bellmore, who is doing publicity for the marathon and bringing him water between laps. The two men used to ride the Wantagh parkway bike path for years without realizing the dangers, Hager said, and the guardrail showed the men how the Scarpatis went out of their way to protect them as bikers, they said.
The money Kingsbury raises this year, through a Crowdrise crowdfunding account and collections that day, will help the foundation continue to raise awareness and host programs, Lynn Scarpati said.
Although Kingsbury and Matthew Scarpati never knew each other, Lynn Scarpati said she believes the two cyclists would have been close. “He is truly a pure spirit,” she said of Kingsbury. “He has a heart of gold.”