Cross-state charity trip 'not just a bike ride' for local officers

Cross-state charity trip 'not just a bike ride' for local officers

ALTON — As the sun rose over Alton, 60 cyclists dipped their back tires into the Mississippi River before setting off on an annual cross-state charity ride to benefit families of fallen police officers.

Four days and nearly 360 miles later, they did the same in Lake Michigan after reaching their final destination Sunday in Chicago.

"It's not just a bike ride," said Stephen Vogel, a Champaign police officer who took part in the 14th annual Concerns of Police Survivors Cycle Across Illinois charity ride.

Vogel joined the four-day ride in honor of Jaimie Cox, a Rockford police officer who died in the line of duty last year. After spending nearly seven days with Officer Cox's his family and planning the funeral, Vogel said he realized how important it is to offer support for grieving families.

Each participant was given a blue bracelet engraved with the name of a fallen officer on it — Vogel wore Officer Cox's.

The ride itself was exhausting, Vogel said, "but that goes away quickly when you realize who and what you're doing this for. If I'm ever killed in the line of duty, I know COPS will have my family taken care of."

Participating officers were asked to raise a minimum of $700. Vogel and other local officers said they raised over $5,000. All of the money goes to the charity's Illinois chapter and surviving families of fallen officers. Vogel said the chapter sends survivors to Washington, D.C., every year to attend the police memorial.

University of Illinois police Sgt. Aaron Landers initially wanted to complete the ride just to say he did it. However, after experiencing it last year, he saw the appreciation of fallen officers' families, which brought him back for more.

"I've been doing police work for 21 years, and sometimes you get the feeling like nobody cares anymore," he said. "Then you drive your bike through something like this and it reminds you how important you are. It's life-changing."

Landers said the ride doesn't seem so bad when supportive families cheer on the cyclists between stops.

"It's truly amazing to see how many people are out supporting us," he said. "In Springfield, there were people standing on balconies and waving flags. Those people lift you up and motivate you to keep going."