Ride for life

DR100 honors cyclists, promotes safety

Posted: May 3, 2013

On Aug. 24, 2009, a bicyclist was struck from behind by a car on Port Republic Road. The cyclist, who was not carrying identification, died at the scene.

Reports that a male between the ages of 35 and 50 had been hit quickly spread through the news wires. Police asked anyone with information to contact authorities.

Avid cyclist Steve Tomasi fit that description. Immediately, friends and family of the McGaheysville resident began calling each other in a frantic attempt to find out if it was him. Phone calls came ringing in to his wife’s cellphone.

After three days, police indentified the body. It wasn’t Steve. He was some 30 miles away at work that day. A missing persons report from the Wintergreen Resort solved the mystery.

The cyclist was 49-year-old Joseph V. Mirenda. The Virginia Beach resident was riding his bike 100 kilometers on a surprise trip to visit his son, who was a freshman at James Madison University at the time.

Though Steve did not know Mirenda, he said the tragedy still hit home.

“I thought ‘Gosh, that really could have been me. My daughter is about to go to JMU and I could see myself doing something like that.’ ”

DR100’s beginnings
Steve could have hung up his bike and called it a day. He could have said it’s not worth it; that it’s too dangerous to ride the streets of Harrisonburg. But he didn’t.

Instead, Steve set out to blaze a bike trail of safety throughout Rockingham County. In honor of Dr. Mirenda, Steve created an annual bike ride called the DR100 with the help of Mirenda’s wife Frauke and their son, Nick.

The fourth annual 100K ride will take place May 11 this year. The event, which also features a shorter 50K ride for novices, has raised more than $30,000 in the last three years.

Steve’s wife Melanie said the DR100 brought healing to the Mirenda family.

 “[It] showed them how wonderful, loving and caring our community is to those impacted by tragedy.  We have a unique community here in the Valley that truly supports others in need and the DR100 was one way to show it.”  

She is proud that the DR100 could donate $10,000 to Rockingham County to create a BikeSmart program at Spotswood High School, which is similar to the one at Turner Ashby and Broadway High School.

The project aims to teach students to stay safe on the roads, with and without cyclists, and to promote a better awareness of bike safety so that tragedies like the death of Dr. Mirenda can be avoided.  

“I believe the DR100 is an opportunity to not only give back to our community by promoting safer places for people to bike, walk and run, but is also an opportunity to show our support to a family that was devastated by a tragedy that changed their lives forever,” Melanie said.

A safer future
One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to expanding pedestrian lanes on public roads and to promote and advocate bike and pedestrian safety, Steve said.

Past proceeds have paid for 8,400 feet of shared lane markings in Harrisonburg, painted striped lanes at the new RMH hospital and bicycle donations to JMU’s Bike Share Program.

“We know our money that we raise — the $35,000 — is just a drop in the bucket to how much it would cost to provide bike lanes on all public roads,” Steve said. “It’s going to cost millions of dollars, but we found, through grant money and now that Harrisonburg is a bike friendly city, Rockingham County has a pedestrian plan that really sets us up to get more federal grants.”

Steve said the event provides a banner every year for riders to sign.

“It makes it personal,” he said. “The participant can say ‘I didn’t really know Dr. Mirenda … but my buddy Mark in Richmond was injured or killed, I am riding in his honor’ — for somebody to get closure and know their dollars they’re contributing for the ride is going to promoting safety so future riders will be more safe and won’t have a tragedy in their lives.”  

The DR100 also puts an emphasis on the rider to take their own precautions.

“The fact that nobody knew who [Dr. Mirenda] was, we just wanted to send a clear message to the community and the cyclist that you need to carry identification with you. We need to help communicate this to cyclists.”

Stay safe
Steve said bicyclists should keep three things in mind:

1) “Be seen: Always have reflective materials or bright colored clothing or lights on your bike.

2) Be known: Always carry a medical ID on your person — either in your wallet or on a road ID,  a bracelet for the wrist or ankle that lists your name, emergency contact, blood type and any allergies you may have. This will help save first responders valuable time, in the event of an accident.

3) Create space: “Let’s promote having bike lanes on all public roads. That helps people that are joggers, runners and cyclists,” said Tomasi. “I truly believe, if there was a bike lane where Dr. Mirenda was traveling, he would not have been hit and killed.”

Melanie said she hopes the DR100 will raise enough money in the future to help start the BikeSmart program at East Rockingham High School.  

“The DR100 cares about our community, the safety of cyclists and the safety of future cyclists,” she said.  “I am so thrilled to be part of this outstanding non-profit organization and consider it a privilege to help the DR100 committee put on this great event.”

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