MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Seventy-year-old Ken Carroll has been a cyclist for a long time. And whenever the retired New York City firefighter gets the chance, he likes to use his hobby to do some good. This year, to raise money and to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he and some companions from FDNY will ride their bikes on a five-day journey from Long Island to the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
It marks the fifth year in a row that Carroll will participate in what is known as the FDNY 343 Ride.
“The main thing with the fire department is that we will never forget,” Carroll said. “These boys went into that building and they never came out. I lost a lot of friends, a lot of family. So we do this ride for them.”
Carroll, a Mahopac resident, and his companions will hit the road on the morning of Sept. 7. Former FDNY members and Army veterans are scheduled to cycle from Montauk all the way down to the nation’s capital.
“This is a major undertaking,” said Carroll, a Vietnam veteran (1965-67) who can often be seen riding his bicycle on Route 6 in the morning. “It’s not like you’re just going to get here and bike a few miles. It is a major undertaking for guys to get physically fit and it is for a reason. You need that passion to do it. All the guys that I know have been in burning buildings. We know what it’s like, but we came out.”
All 80 riders will stop and pull over when 343 miles are reached in what is known as the “Mile a Man” Ride. Every one of the 343 firefighters’ names that were killed in the World Trade Center will then be mentioned after a cross and American flag are raised.
The ride will gather the bikers into one line as troopers ride their motorcycles on the left and right sides of the cyclists while they move through each township on main roads.
The group plans to find motels each night (already accommodated for), and resume at around 6 a.m. A crowd of disabled veterans and their families will be at the finish line waiting.
“There was a kid who I rode for in the very first one named John Curtin,” Carroll said. “He is in Brewster. We were all going to ride for a veteran. So I just happened to look at the Mahopac News, and who’s in the front is this kid with no legs. Blonde head, good-looking kid. I said, ‘I’m riding for that kid.’ He never knew me. I reached out to him and got permission from the family and the only time that I met him was when I got to Washington. And there he was in the wheelchair. I went up to him and said ‘John Curtin, I’m Ken Carroll and I just rode 343 miles for you.’”
The FDNY Ride has grown greatly since the inaugural event in 2011. The ride has raised over $400,000 since then. Jerseys have also been made for the event.
“There is more support,” Carroll said. “From the very first one to now, it’s quite a bit more.”
An American Legion Post 1080 and VFW Post 5491 member, Carroll sells raffle tickets to raise money for the event. Its sole cause is to aid veterans who have returned from duty. Personal donations are also made to fdny343ride.com.
“All of the money goes right to the disabled,” Carroll said. “The money doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not for this lawyer, it’s not for advertising. None of that. Someone comes back, and they get it right there. There is no gray area here.”
NYSC in Somers Commons, where Carroll teaches indoor cycling, has provided major support for the ride. Bikeway of Mahopac has also donated money and biking gear for the long trip. Sponsors like the Carriage House and Chophouse Grille have chipped in as well.
A 25-year FDNY firefighter, Carroll recalls his experience spending time with the injured Army veterans for whom he is riding.
“Once a year they have a dinner for those who supported these kids,” Carroll said. “The dinner is downtown and you see six of these kids in these wheelchairs with distorted faces or no vision. Arms are gone, scars, and they got a smile on their face.”