I arrive at the Denver airport on June 24, and jump into a shared van to my hotel in Fort Collins. I am there to ride in my fifth National EMS Memorial Bike Ride.
I especially like the Colorado ride because it ends in Colorado Springs the day before the EMS Memorial there, and also includes a stop at the Air Medical Memorial Service. The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (aka Muddy Angels) works with the Air Medical Memorial and National EMS Memorial Service to coordinate their activities for the benefit of all involved.
Wednesday morning we gather at the Fort Collins Timberline Church for an opening ceremony with speakers Steve Main, director of EMS at Poudre Valley Hospital, and Mike Swihart, Fort Collins law officer and EMT, who set the focus for the next three days of riding. After that we are off for a leisurely 54-mile tour with an elevation gain of only 1,816 feet. Each cyclist and ride support volunteer is given at least one set of dog tags with the name of an honoree stamped on it to wear throughout the ride. And at some point each day the names of 87 EMS providers, some of whom died in the line of duty and some who didn’t, is read with a bell being rung after each name. This is different from the honorees of the two memorial services, which only recognize line-of-duty deaths.
At the start of the second day, we convene at the Avista Adventist Hospital near Broomfield for a brief ceremony and some sharing among the cyclists about why and for whom we ride. Among others, touching comments about Mike Smith, noted EMS World contributor, speaker and instructor are shared by Dave Page and Steve Berry, who note Mike’s profound influence and mentorship in both of their lives.
Forty-four miles and 3,214 feet of elevation later, we arrive at the top of a hill in Littleton, CO, where riders and honoree family members assemble at the same hotel. They join bike riders that evening for dinner followed by a candle lighting at the Air Medical Memorial landing site.
Friday morning starts out with cyclists and family members meeting for the sunrise gathering of helicopters, followed by a short outdoor memorial service this year honoring 13 providers and pilots, eight of whom will also be honored at the EMS memorial service.
This is the hardest day of riding, covering 88 miles and 4,495 feet of elevation. At the final rest stop we gather in parade formation for the ride to a city park where we welcome and give tribute to this year’s LODD honorees and their families. Riders hand over the dog tags they’ve been wearing to the loved ones of the honorees. There are many hugs and handshakes as the pieces of metal are exchanged.
After the ceremony I sit down to eat with Cody Medley’s father. He explains to me how important the Weekend of Tribute (weekendoftribute.org) is to the families and how much they appreciate the bike ride portion of it.
Cody’s last call was February 16, 2013. Cody, 22, a paramedic with Indianapolis EMS, was killed along with EMT Timothy McCormick when a car struck their ambulance as it crossed through an intersection on Indianapolis’ north side. “The first year is filled with new, painful experiences. You have to learn how to do things without them.” Jeff Medley says. “Shortly before the accident we both went through a faith-clarifying event together. I’ve been reading my Bible more since the accident and I know my son is in Heaven.”
Twenty-four hours later I sit in the front row of the auditorium, having traded in my spandex for poly-blend class A’s. I am given the tremendous honor of delivering the keynote address this year, which weighs heavy knowing the inconsolable pain of my audience.
For a transcript of the keynote go to EMSWorld.com/11553826. For pictures of the memorial and bike ride go to EMSWorld.com/11568262.