After bike accident with mountain goat, repaired Dillon local rides cross-country to raise funds to fight pediatric cancer
How you can help
If you’d like to donate to Dillon local Len Szmurlo’s fundraiser to help children fight pediatric cancer, go to: CrowdRise.com/Donate/Project/WarOnWheels/CalsAngels
On his 2,500-mile bike journey across the majority of the United States, there are two things that have taken Dillon resident Len Szmurlo aback, in a good way.
The first is that humbling feeling when cresting, say, a hill along the grasslands of Texas’ panhandle. When atop a hill, with large swathes of America’s flatland in view all around, Szmurlo said you can’t help but be impressed by the ability to see for 40 to 50 miles in each direction.
“You can really see beyond what’s in front of you,” Szmurlo said. “You’re in awe as to how vast the United States really is, how much land there really is. It’s interesting to notice just how big the country can be.”
The second is what — or, rather, who — has helped Szmurlo to continue pedaling no matter what kind of conditions have been thrown his way since he embarked on his cross-country ride along the Route-66 corridor on April 27. Whether it be the pushing through the heat in the deserts of Arizona, the snow in the mountains of New Mexico or the blitzing winds in Oklahoma, Szmurlo has been inspired each morning by the shared stories of the very people he’s doing this ride for. The lifelong, avid long-distance cyclist Szmurlo is in the middle of a month-plus, cross-country bike tour from Santa Monica, California, to St. Charles, Illinois, known as “W.A.R On Wheels.” The event is an annual fundraiser for Cal’s Angels, a St. Charles-based pediatric cancer foundation.
“W.A.R.,” Szmurlo said, stands for “wishes, awareness and research.” With that, each morning of the ride, Szmurlo and the 10 other cross-country cyclists are told the stories of two to four of the pediatric cancer patients Cal’s Angels has helped. Szmurlo said it’s those stories, no matter how sore his body is or how tired his mental state is, that inspire him to push through whatever conditions he’s encountering at whatever stretch of this country he’s cycling.
“It’s very moving,” said Szmurlo, who’s worn a red, white and blue American flag-themed bike top during the tour. “It’s very touching to hear these kids who can be anywhere between several months old to young adults. And some have just recently been diagnosed with a certain form of cancer, and some of them have lost their battle and passed away. It really gives some meaning to the day’s ride. No matter how tough the day ride might be, whether riding in the rain or snow, or like last three days, some really tough winds, it’s nothing compared to what these kids and these families have gone through.”
Szmurlo has his own inspiring Summit County story behind why he chose to take part in the W.A.R. On Wheels. A retired police officer who served 30 years in Omaha, Nebraska, and who also led a Boy Scout troop for 25 years, Szmurlo found his way to Summit County nearly five years ago. Since living here, Szmurlo has continued his hobby of long-distance cycling, taking part in such events as last summer’s Ride The Rockies. As part of his routine training to take part in events like that, Szmurlo said he often rides around the county’s recpath, including one of his favorite portions, past Officers Gulch and Copper Mountain Resort, up toward Vail Pass.
It was during one trip back up Vail Pass last July when Szmurlo realized it’d been a couple of months since he noticed the mountain goats who often are in view from the bike path near Officers Gulch. On the way back down from Vail Pass, Szmurlo suffered a broken collarbone, two broken ribs and a punctured lung after a mountain goat stepped into his bike’s path while riding at about 24 miles per hour.
Too sudden to stop, Szmurlo crashed hard to the pavement and was rushed to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. In the wake of his treatment at the local hospital, Szmurlo worked with the local Axis Sports Medicine to ultimately get back on the bike.
It was during that recovery period through the remainder of the summer of 2018, before Szmurlo was able to get back in the saddle in September 2018, when his brother mentioned that one of his friends was doing the W.A.R. On Wheels ride. Previously, Szmurlo had done many cross-state bike tours in places like Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, but a cross-country ride of some sort was still on his bucket list. With that, Szmurlo thought the ride to benefit Cal’s Angels would be the perfect way to accomplish this life goal while also giving back to young children, a group of the community he always worked closely with during his time giving back in law enforcement and with the Boy Scouts.
After the frame of his Trek bike cracked in the Officers Gulch mountain goat accident, Szmurlo bought a new all-carbon Cannondale Synapse bike for the cross-country tour. He’s riding on it now, as of Saturday taking a day-long break in Clinton, Oklahoma, a town shy of 10,000 residents and located about two-thirds of the way between Amarillo, Texas, and Oklahoma City.
Szmurlo and the rest of the W.A.R. On Wheels tour group will approach their destination near suburban Chicago on the final day of the tour, June 2. Once there, some of the young children whom Cal’s Angels has helped — and some of the same children the riding group have been told about in their morning prayer sessions — will join for the final 50 miles of the ride. At that point, after Szmurlo has biked through the stop-and-go traffic of southern California, the dry heat of Arizona, the snow of New Mexico, and the driving winds and increased humidity of north Texas and Oklahoma — the true effect of his first ride across the country he loves dearly will set in.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Szmurlo said, “and satisfying at the same time.”
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