Gold Star 500 bicyclists feeling burn on memorial ride — and that's the point

Gold Star 500 bicyclists feeling burn on memorial ride — and that's the point

URBANA — About halfway through their 500-mile ride from Cairo to the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the 34 riders participating in the Gold Star 500 placed their bikes against the walls of the Illinois National Guard Armory on Friday.

Most of them ditched their shoes, too, for relief on another unseasonably warm day.

"Guys are starting to get banged up, the knees are getting sore," said David Helfrich, president of the Gold Star 500.

And that's the point, the 26-year Army veteran said. Helfrich and his fellow riders are cycling through the state to honor the memory of the 34 servicemen and women from the Illinois National Guard who have lost their lives in either Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11.

They began their 500-mile journey on Wednesday and it'll wrap up today in St Charles.

"We chose to do 500 miles in a four-day timeframe and we chose it because we want this to hurt, because the hurt we feel is only a fraction of what those families and friends and community members from around Illinois feel," Helfrich said.

The response to the 34 riders in the various towns they've ridden through in the past few days has been favorable. In Villa Grove on Friday morning, students from the schools came outside to cheer, wave and clap as the riders sped through town.

"That was phenomenal," Helfrich said. "The support in each town has been incredible."

The most meaningful interactions for Helfrich and the crew is when the parents of the fallen heroes thank them on the visits.

"The biggest thing is coming into a town and greeting Gold Star mothers, whose sons have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and we see the tears of joy in their faces as they know we are carrying on their son's or their daughter's lineage," he said. "It's an amazing feeling to be a part of that."

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