For Lauren Opryszek, riding more than 300 miles across the state of Illinois is just continuing what her late stepdad, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Maness, started.
Opryszek is gearing up to participate in the 13th annual Cycle Across Illinois, a bike ride that recognizes law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. Riders will begin the four-day bike ride July 13 in Alton, near St. Louis, and end July 16 in Maywood.
The 24-year-old McHenry resident is riding for Chester police officer James Brockmeyer and in Maness’ honor. Brockmeyer, 22, was killed in October 2016 in a crash during a high-speed chase. He is one of six officers who cyclists will ride for this year.
Maness died Sept. 14, 2015, nearly one year after he was shot in a Holiday Hills shooting. He was 47. Last year the ride stopped at the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office as Maness was one of the officers recognized.
He and his partner, Deputy Khalia Satkiewicz, responded in October 2014 to a reported domestic incident at the Holiday Hills home of Scott B. Peters, 53, who fired more than a dozen rounds at the two officers. Peters eventually was sentenced to 135 years in prison.
Maness’ femur was shattered and a vein in his leg was severed in the shooting. After 15 surgeries, he never regained the ability to walk. He spent several months recovering before he developed a blood clot in his lungs and died suddenly during a physical therapy appointment.
Since Maness’ death, Opryszek said she’s felt a duty to continue to support what her stepdad cared about so deeply – the police community and veterans. Opryszek sits on the board for A Warriors Mind, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to veterans.
Before his nearly eight-year stint with the sheriff’s office, Maness spent 20 years with the U.S. Army and saw combat in Iraq in 1990-91. He retired with the rank of sergeant first class.
Opryszek also makes a point to reach out to as many families as she can across the country who have lost someone in a line of duty death to provide support as someone who has gone through a similar experience.
“It’s such a small group of people who have really been through this. Everyone experiences death but a line of duty death is something very different, it’s very overwhelming,” she said. “All year, every year there’s reminders and memories. … Now that I’ve completed my first year since Dwight’s passing I think I have something to say to those people who are going through it now.”
The charity ride raises money for IL C.O.P.S. (Illinois Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors), an organization that assists families. The organization, which includes Mike Barnes and Terry Roderick, has been and continues to be a lifelong support system for Opryszek and her family.
“They have just been everything from the day Dwight died until even today,” she said. “They are family to me and they have a piece of my heart.”
Opryszek said while the past few years have taken a significant toll on her and her family, she uses charity events such as these to remain positive and help others through the difficult times.
Her positivity is a quality, she said, Maness admired most about her.
“Knowing that was what he loved so much about me is what really pushes me to do all of this,” Opryszek said. “It kind of fixes my heart after such a big heart break.”
Opryszek is raising funds for her ride. Those interested in donating can visit https://www.razoo.com/story/U6055g.