Armstrong finishes the ride for crash victims: ‘I had to come’

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — One week after nine bicyclists were hit by a pickup truck north of Kalamazoo, professional cyclist Lance Armstrong joined members of the community to “Finish the Ride” for the victims.

“It just struck me. I had to come,” Armstrong said. “This is the biggest tragedy in cycling I’ve ever seen.”

Five cyclists were killed in the Cooper Township crash on June 7 and four more were hurt. Armstrong was a Bronson Methodist and Borgess hospitals before the ride, visiting the survivors. Survivor Paul Runnels remains in fair condition. Sheila Jeske, another survivor, has been released from the hospital.

One week to the day after the crash, about 600 cyclists rode 28.5 miles from Kalamazoo to Plainwell and back. It’s the same route the cyclists were taking on the night of the crash.

Armstrong spearheaded the ride. He heard about the horrible crash and reached out the Kalamazoo cycling community.

“We’ve all been in that place as cyclist. We’ve all been scared, we’ve all been touched by cars, but to be run down and it was so severe and for five to lose their lives, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Armstrong said.

Wearing the Chain Gang jersey, he road with the members who broke down when they reached the crash site on Westnedge Avenue, where five “ghost bikes” now sit in memory of those who died.

One of the survivors, Jennifer Johnson, she was wheeled out on a stretcher near the crash site to watch the ride. She remains in the hospital in rehab.

“I’m so grateful to everyone for their support,” Johnson said. “It means a lot to me and my family and just praying for those who are still recovering, they need a lot of prayers.”

Fellow survivor Shelia Jeske was released from the hospital Tuesday. She sat at the start of the ride in a wheelchair, both legs still in casts. Both women said they were overwhelmed by all of the love they felt from the bikers and those on the side of the bike route.

“Just want to thank the community for coming out,” Johnson said.

Other members of the community lined the route of the ride to support the victims and show solidarity.

Before the ride, Armstrong visited the cyclists in the hospital and met with the families of the riders who passed away, one of whom — Debbie Bradley — was laid to rest Tuesday.

“There were probably 40 of us in the room,” Armstrong said. “I’ve never been in a room like that. It was very difficult for me.”

“Lance felt a deep empathy for what happened a week ago. And cycling community is a culture, and when something tragic like this happens, it doesn’t just happen to one, it happens to all of us, and so he felt that he wanted to come and help assist in our grieving process and our healing process,” said Toni Daniels, who helped organize the event.

This year’s KalTour for people of all ages, scheduled for June 26, will benefit Kalamazoo Strong Organization. All proceeds will go to the victims of the crash and their families.

Online:Support the Survivors of Kalamazoo Bicycle Tragedy’s Facebook pageKalamazoo Strong OrganizationComplete coverage of the Kalamazoo cycling tragedy

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