JOLIET – After cycling about 230 miles to honor his fellow officers, Joliet Police Officer John Stefanski had no complaints.
“I’m feeling great,” he said Saturday, before embarking on another leg of the 325-mile ride.
Stefanski was one of 54 cyclists riding in the Cycle Across Illinois police memorial ride honoring officers who have died in the line of duty.
The ride was founded 10 years ago by the Illinois Concerns of Police Survivors, also known as COPS, shortly after Joliet bicycle officer Jonathan Walsh was killed in an on-duty car accident 10 years ago.
“We wanted to do a bike ride commemorating Jonathan and other officers who had died in the past,” founding COPS member Mark Hannan said.
The four-day ride begins in Alton and ends in Chicago, with riders stopping to honor fallen police along the way.
The 54 riders and 15 support team members were comprised of co-workers, loved ones and others affected by the loss of an officer, including Joliet officers Stefanski, John Hanke, Larry Collins, Ed Johnson and Tony Lakota.
When the event started in 2005, only 11 riders and two support vehicles made the journey.
“We never knew that it would be something we’d do every year and grow to be such a large event with so much support,” said Hanke, who was integral to founding the Illinois ride after Walsh’s death.
The ride is COPS’s largest annual fundraiser, securing money to support the families of the fallen officers through counseling, retreats and memorials. In years past, they’ve raised as much as $60,000, but were aiming for $100,000 for this year’s ride, said six-year participant Terry McMillen.
McMillen, 60, and his wife Jane, 55, ride each year in honor of their son Brian, an Illinois State Police trooper killed by a drunk driver several years ago.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Terry said. “This is our support group.”
For Joliet officer Ed Johnson, the ride is about more than honor – it’s about family.
“I do this for that simple fact that, at any given time, it could be me one day,” Johnson said. “Therefore, I know if that ever happens, my family is going to be taken care of. I know that this family will take care of my family.”