by April Lisante
For the past 10 years, Chestnut Hill resident Andy Kite has been volunteering his time and his heart to a charity event that benefits children of first responders and police officers lost in the line of duty across the Delaware Valley.
Every July, thousands of bikers take to the streets for the Tour de Shore, traversing Philadelphia into New Jersey, pedaling 65 miles before reaching a finish line in Atlantic City, N.J., and Kite, a local accountant, has been there to cheer riders on, to plan the event and to staff the celebratory after-party.
But this year, the Chestnut Hill Community Association board member and local accountant decided to get even more involved in the fundraising effort by celebrating his 50th birthday milestone as a rider himself.
“I’ve always gotten involved as a volunteer but this year, since I’m having a big birthday, I decided I want to do the ride to celebrate,” said Kite. “I want to feel what it’s like to be on the other side.
“I have a lot of fun volunteering. It’s a lot of energy, and just to see the gratitude on the riders’ faces is wonderful.”
The Tour de Shore ride was renamed this year The Ben to the Shore Bike Tour to reflect the community pride within the variety of neighborhoods they will travel to reach the finish line. The event kicks off just after 7 a.m. July 28 at 6th and Race streets at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and ends around 1:30 p.m. in Atlantic City at the Showboat Hotel with an outdoor beach party nearly 5,000-strong.
The 65-mile biking event, which debuted in 1987, has raised millions of dollars for the children of first responders, and has grown each year, swelling to participant numbers topping 3,000. Nearly 3,000 bikers are estimated to join in this year, with another 2,500 family, friends and volunteers present to cheer them on.
For those who can’t go the full 65 miles, there is a 50-mile “Lite Tour” that starts in Berlin, N.J.,and ends in Atlantic City. Organizers say the event attracts everyone from casual riders to hard-core cyclists.
The Tour de Shore Children’s Foundation, which benefits from the monies raised by the event, has also been renamed this year to the Families Behind the Badge Children’s Foundation to fully encompass how many different organizations receive assistance from the event.
Last year alone, the bike ride raised $1.1 million for 45 local children’s charities, for families of first responders and for 32 police-youth alliance programs, which link police with local children in social settings that build community spirit. The organization also provides what is called “immediacy grants,” or monies that are delivered to families within a day of losing a loved one in the line of duty.
For more than a decade, Kite’s company, the NSM Insurance Group in Conshohocken, has consistently been one of the largest sponsors of the event. Kite decided 10 years ago to volunteer. Four years ago, his partner, Karl Martin, also an accountant, started biking the route himself. While Kite always trained with Martin, this year will be a monumental milestone as a participant.
“I have someone who will be taking over [at the party] for me, so I decided to do the ride,” said Kite. “I felt this was just the year to do it.”
To train for the event, Kite joined Martin back in May to start daily trail rides. As of last week, they were completing 50-mile rides from the Spring Mill trail in Conshohocken to Phoenixville and back again.
“Some people think, ‘Oh I’ll just jump on the bike and go 65 miles,’” Kite said. “No, it’s not that easy.”
Kite will join riders from across the Delaware Valley, from novice bikers to hard-core cyclists, like one group that rides the 65 miles, then turns around and immediately heads home on their bikes without hitting the after party. But there are also participants who plan to push themselves to cross that finish line, overcoming physical obstacles to make the journey a success.
One of the riders will be Philly police officer Jesse Hartnett, who was shot three times in the arm while on duty. After extensive rehabilitation, he hopes to be one of the nearly 3,000 riders to finish in Atlantic City.
“Just learning what the funds raised go to is so meaningful,” Kite said.