Local riders pedal long distance to honor fallen police officers

It begins and ends here: How death gave Gregg Swanson a new respect for life. All lives, really. But particularly the lives of police officers and their families.

That's why Swanson, a "double nickel" this year, age 55, awakens with the roosters every day to ride his bike. With his friends. One-hundred miles this week. Two-hundred plus by summer's end. Designed to grind. And it hurts so good. All to prepare for his third Tour de Force Memorial Ride, 270 miles this year from Boston to New York, raising money and honoring families of police officers that have lost their lives in the line of duty.

"I grew up with Bill Pontious in Waterford. He liked to say he dropped 18 on St. Bernard when they had (Harold) Pressley. Great guy," said Swanson, a former soccer player at Boston University, who runs Swanson Insurance in Waterford. "He was a career cop. He started in Groton and then went to Los Angeles to chase the Bloods and the Crips. He settled in Aurora, Colo., and passed away in his sleep at age 52. He was a big bike rider and raised over $150,000 for the Tour de Force since 2006 (it began in 2002 to honor Sept. 11 victims). When he passed, I asked if I could ride in his honor."

Now he rides with Scott Erricson, who owns the New London-based e2 Engineers, a structural engineering consulting firm; Groton police chief L.J. Fusaro, Lee Couture, who owns The Mariner Financial Group; and Joe Funaro, a former professional baseball player who is a police officer at Yale University.

They'll all be at Jonathan Edwards Winery on Thursday night at 6 for a fundraiser, part of the "JE Cares" community outreach program. Tickets are $12. All proceeds go to the project. The band Sugar Rush, which has opened for Toby Keith and the Zack Brown Band, will perform.

Twelve bucks. Wine. Fun. Music. Be there.

Some of the money they raised last year went to the families of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were killed in the line of duty in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, 2014. This year, some will go to New York City police officer Miosotis Familia, 48, a mother of three, who was assassinated last week in the Bronx. She was shot in the head sitting in her vehicle, what several published reports identified as a "deliberate cop assassination."

"It's not easy being a cop right now," Fusaro said one night last week after a ride through Niantic. "It's an honor to be part of this."

This much we know, however: Our corner of the world is surely doing its part to promote better understanding of the police and their work. In New London this past spring, middle schoolers got to play basketball and dodgeball against New London police officers. The theme: "building bridges." Funny how both events transpired: The kids and cops, all of varying backgrounds, cultures and colors, played together. Got to know each other. Saw each other as equals. Just a bunch of people playing a game. Who knows, really, the tentacles of the residual effect?

Chief Peter Reichard and Captain Todd Bergeson had lunch with the kids frequently this school year. Again: Who knows, really, the tentacles of the residual effect?

Now this. Who knows the tentacles of this bike ride?

"We really want to raise as much money as we can," Swanson said.

This is their third year. They've made new friendships all over the country. They've laughed at their pal and fellow rider Andy Walker's selfies. Swanson's salty language. The proliferation of potholes. The late nights (and subsequent early mornings) partaking of the euphoric nectar.

"You wouldn't believe the people who came out," Walker said last year. "We got a picture with the New York City Police Chief (Ray Kelly). People from every background, color, clapping along the side of the road. Homeless people came out of the woods. I couldn't believe it. Unreal. After four days of riding, I'm closer with some of those people now than people I've worked with for 25 years."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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