BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Arlington, Virginia, September 9, 2011 – This weekend’s tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America recalls World T.E.A.M. Sports’ stirring September 2002 memorial to the victims, the Face of America Ride from Ground Zero in New York to the Pentagon.
Departing from New York on Friday, September 20 and arriving at the Pentagon on Sunday, September 22, the ride covered 270 miles and included 1,500 bicyclists. It remains the best-attended Face of America ride to this day.
Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond was one of the riders, having previously participated in World T.E.A.M.’s inaugural Face of America ride in 2000, and in the 1998 Vietnam Challenge. LeMond rode the entire distance, as well as signing autographs and posing for photographs with other Face of America participants.
The great majority of the riders, however, were individuals who had been deeply affected by the September 2001 attack. Peter Kiernan, World T.E.A.M.’s then-co-chairman, estimated in a Baltimore Sun report that “probably 70 percent” of the participating riders had lost a friend or a family member during the attack. Kiernan told the riders at the Face of America start that “I know inside that you are bleeding,” despite being in good shape physically for a three-day ride.
Riders in the 2002 Face of America came from across the country, and across the world. Scott Nickel, participating in this year’s Ride2Recovery’s 9/11 Challenge, notes his first bicycle ride was the 2002 Face of America. “I have been on every Face of America since,” the Fairfield, Connecticut rider reports.
Maria Bockman was a counselor at a Hoboken, New Jersey high school on September 11, 2001. Many students in her school witnessed from the school the planes hitting the World Trade Center. “I am excited to be part of the Face of America ride for many reasons,” Bockman told World T.E.A.M. Sports. “I want to show myself and others that as a team we can survive. It’s not only a physical challenge, but an emotional challenge as well.”
A firefighter from Virginia near the Pentagon, Michael Alvardo was among the first responders to the attack. He spent ten days working at the Pentagon and at his firehouse. “For Face of America, we are riding as a team as we worked as a team at the Pentagon. This ride means a lot to me, and I hope it will symbolize to our nation the need to stay united as one.”
Terrie Wurzbacher was an active duty member from the U.S. Navy. A native New Yorker and a Washington D.C. resident who has epilepsy, Wurzbacher looked to the Face of America to support each other. “This ride is giving us the opportunity to do more than just fly the flag,” she said. “[The ride] will help dispel the myth that having a disability precludes accomplishing a major goal – my epilepsy will not stand in the way of my training for and succeeding in this ride. There are other riders with other conditions, many with asthma, some with heart conditions.”
Pentagon worker Michael DiPaula also participated in the ride. The 41-year-old was invited by World T.E.A.M. Sports to speak to the riders on Saturday evening regarding his experience in the Pentagon the morning of the attack. The sound of American Airlines Flight 77 approaching the Pentagon was the “loudest noise anyone could imagine,” he told the riders. DiPaula recalled had just left a meeting with co-workers and following the crash, he was buried in debris. The workers he had been meeting with minutes before were killed in the attack. “I can still see them sitting around the table, their faces. It will probably stay with me forever.” The 1,500 Face of America riders gave him a standing ovation.
Arriving in Washington on Sunday, the Face of America riders were provided a police escort to the Pentagon. They arrived to cheering family and friends.
A decade later, World T.E.A.M. Sports continues to create and manage life-changing inclusive events for participants. The Face of America, following New York to Washington rides in 2002 and 2003, was relaunched in 2006 as a Gettysburg to Washington ride – the direction being reversed two years later for logistics. This November, World T.E.A.M. Sports is launching the Face of America Texas at Fort Hood, and is considering additional rides in the coming years.
Jose Ramos, a southern California former Vietnam War medic who participated in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 1998 Vietnam Challenge and the inaugural 2000 Face of America ride, is philosophical about the ride. Crediting World T.E.A.M. with saving his life after 20 years of depression and drug abuse resulting from post-traumatic stress, Ramos said in 2000 that “I realized this ride was not about me or its participants, rather it is about everyone, everywhere in the world. We are all one, we are all equal. We are all dependent upon each other in some way. I thank God for allowing us to be the messengers to deliver this message to America and the world. I sincerely hope we are able to be an example for people with special needs.”