Mother’s Day is usually a day I spend with my two adult children. But my last four have been quite different. I have spent them as a rider in the annual Police Unity Tour, a four-day, nearly 300-mile, bicycle trip from New York to Washington to honor members of law enforcement who have given their lives in the line of duty. Next week’s Mother’s Day will be the same.
On Wednesday, my chapter, which consists of 160 riders and support members, will embark from the World Trade Center. On Saturday, we will arrive at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial a few blocks from the Capitol. The memorial is engraved with the names of fallen officers, including about 40 from my department, the Nassau County police force, more than two dozen from Suffolk County’s force, and many Long Island residents who worked for other departments, including the NYPD.
This year, the name of Nassau police Officer Charles Dennis Cole Jr. of Wantagh has been added. He died in 2011 at age 49 of brain cancer attributed to his work at the WTC after 9/11.
The goal of the tour is to never allow anyone to forget hero officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Our motto is, “We ride for those who died.”
The tour is made up of an incredible group of police officers, retired officers like me and surviving relatives. We ride for four days, pushing and encouraging each other to keep going, at times feeling too tired, wet and sore to continue.
After a memorial service on Wednesday, we will start pedaling, first making our way on main roads and back roads of New Jersey. Every day provides views of small towns and cities, lush farmland, bridges and water views. I’ve flown to many countries, sailed to many islands, but nothing is as beautiful and satisfying as cycling through our own beautiful country to honor these fellow officers.
The days are long. Each morning after breakfast — I like scrambled eggs, fruit and toast — we get on the road by 8. If we are lucky, the weather is clear and not too hot. Every year seems to bring at least one day with a downpour. Rain or shine, we ride. Halfway through our day, we stop for lunch. Our support team hands each rider a brown bag with a ham or turkey sandwich, chips and a brownie. Famished, I devour every bit.
Around 4 p.m., we are shot, achy and hungry. We stay at hotels; a support vehicle carries our suitcases. Our support team might provide a barbecue dinner, or we’ll go to a restaurant. I go right to bed around 8 p.m.
As we ride, we exchange stories with officers from other departments. We learn about their families and talk about people we’ve lost. Placards on our bikes carry the names of fallen officers.
Day after day, we build friendships, camaraderie and come to realize the bonds we will always share from dedicating ourselves to this heartfelt cause.
When we arrive at RFK Stadium on May 12, we are 1,200 riders strong from around the country. We then ride in pairs to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Relatives and friends of deceased officers will cheer us on. A candlelight vigil will be held the next day, Mother’s Day.
It’s hard — no, impossible — to hold back the tears, so I don’t.
Jamie Paterson of Kings Park is a retired Nassau County police detective.