MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac hosted some very special guests last week when two unassuming cyclists from our neighbors to the north were given a police escort through town.
Chris Potvin and his 10-year-old son, James, were making the arduous 620-mile trek from Whitby, Canada, a suburb of Toronto, to Coney Island. James, who is autistic, came up with the idea for the ride as a way of raising money and awareness for the disorder.
As part of the 15-day sojourn, the father/son team made stops along the way to spend the night at people’s homes. Their trip brought them through Mahopac, where the Potvins, who had reached out ahead of time to town officials, were introduced to their hosts, Faith Ann Butcher, and her family, who also have an autistic son.
“Every year around this time you have kids going back to school,” said dad Chris Potvin, explaining the origin of the trip. “Every kid has the same situation where they are nervous about who will be in their class. We found out last year how James’ classmates were setting up playdates and pool parties online before they went back to school but James was never invited to any of that and it broke our hearts to see him left out of that circle. So, last summer we thought, as an end-of-summer thing, I would spend a week with him. Whatever he wanted to do, we would go and have a dad-and-kid vacation.”
James came up with the idea to ride their bikes from Whitby to Ottawa—about 280 miles. On that ride, the duo raised about $20,000.
“We got recognition from the prime minister of Canada and the premier of Ontario,” Chris said proudly. “And we were thrilled with the results of it and how well he did. So, this year we decided we would double the distance and add in a second charity, EJ Autism, alongside Grandview Kids, which we already represented. And we would add in a second country. So, here we are in the United States, visiting Coney Island.”
Chris said the ride has always been about a dad and his kid riding their bikes to a park, “so what better park is there than Coney Island? Rollercoasters and hot dogs are a good incentive at the end.”
Deno’s Wonder Wheel in Coney Island has already invited the Potvins to be their guests.
“We are thrilled with that and will be enjoying that,” Chris said with a grin.
Asked how James has been holding up on the sometimes stressful journey to Coney Island—a huge challenge for any 10-year-old, much less one coping with autism—Chris said James has been riding like a champ.
“Overall James has been fantastic,” his dad said. “The ride has moments where it’s been difficult. Yesterday, when we had 100-degree heat and we were riding down from Albany to Kingston. Up on top of the ridges, it was oppressive, and it was hot. We had a headwind, and everything was against us. Today, we had bigger hills, but we were in the shade and valleys and there was less traffic and it was quieter and he did much better. So, some days he really struggles and some days he surprises me and excels. Some days, I look behind me and think he’s going to be trailing, but he’s right there. It motivates us both— we push each other.”
Chris said they meticulously planned the trip ahead of time, spacing out their stops every 60 miles or so.
“The way things fell, Mahopac just worked for us,” he said.
One of the incentives for James along the way was ice cream, one of his all-time favorite treats, his dad said.
“James runs on ice cream—a different flavor every time,” Chris said.
However, James confessed to Mahopac News that his favorite flavor was actually Rocky Road.
The Potvins arrived in town on Thursday, Aug. 30, via a police escort, led by Carmel police Sgt. Laura Smith, who brought them directly to the Butcher family driveway where Supervisor Ken Schmitt and Councilwoman Suzi McDonough were on hand to greet them. Smith was there early the next morning to lead them on their way to New York City, where they’d be welcomed to the U.S. Intrepid before taking a victory lap around Central Park and then head off to their final destination: Coney Island.
“It was a great opportunity and nice to have a unique connection with this family,” Butcher said of the hosting experience. “We bonded over the fact that we both have autistic children and it was nice to talk to another parent on that level. After everyone left that night, we had a nice calm evening together. The kids played video games and we had dinner. By the next morning, James was so excited to have the police escort again. I think we were a nice stop for them and they left a good impression on our family as well.”
To learn more about the Potvins and their journey, and contribute to the cause, visit www.ridejamesride.com.