Monday, July 27 was one of the hottest days of the year so far. Hopefully, you enjoyed a cool refreshing dip in a pool, or better yet, you just stayed inside in air conditioning all day to let the heat wave run its course.
Father Christopher Heanue though, had other plans that day.
Along with two parishioners, the administrator at Holy Child Jesus, Richmond Hill, biked 100 miles from the church to Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton, L.I. The journey was dubbed “100 Miles of Hope” and raised funds for the parish’s food pantry.
“It was just exhausting to think we did this,” Father Heanue said. “We biked almost the entire length of Long Island! That was pretty cool. It was a nice accomplishment.”
Father Heanue doesn’t consider himself an athlete by any means. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he took more of an interest in biking. He and parishioner Paul Cerni began doing 10-mile rides and eventually increased their distance to 40- and 50-mile treks.
One day, Cerni brought up the idea of wanting to complete a century ride of 100 miles. Father Heanue agreed, and the intense training began through the hills of Northern Queens alongside fellow parishioner and avid biker Tom Chiafolo.
During the height of the pandemic in New York, a number of Holy Child Jesus parishioners lost their jobs. The thought process behind the 100-mile bike ride was to create a fundraiser to help the parish food pantry provide meals for these families.
In less than a week, Father Heanue helped raised more than $15,000. He said he was inspired by the generosity of parishioners in supporting both the pantry and his bicycle journey.
“I really wanted to raise attention to the ride because I truly wanted to inspire hope in people,” he said. “When we put our minds to something with the power that comes with faith, we can accomplish incredible things.
“The coronavirus has taken away a lot from people. Certainly it took away lives and it took away health, but it also took a lot of our spirits away. This ride was a way to illustrate to people what we can do when we place our trust in God and put ourselves in His hands.”
The day began with Father Heanue celebrating 5 a.m. Mass for Cerni and Chiafolo at the parish. At 5:45 a.m., the trio left Richmond Hill and headed for Jamaica and into West Hempstead. They stopped for breakfast at mile 25 — about two hours into the journey.
The route continued along paths near the Long Island Railroad through Freeport, Babylon and Islip. They then turned north through Shirley, Yaphank and Calverton — all while making sure to stay fully hydrated in the heat.
“By mile 52, the temperatures were rising, and we were just really all feeling it,” Father Heanue said. “We were pushing ourselves too. By mile 75, I still couldn’t believe we had 25 more miles to go!”
Long Island’s South Shore can be surprisingly hilly, so by mile 80 in Hampton Bays — with deer running alongside them — the group knew they had to find their inner strength to push just a bit more.
“When you’re at the 80th mile, you’re not really looking for hills!” Father Heanue said. “Any kind of incline we’d look at as if it were a mountain we had to embark on.”
Nine hours after leaving Queens, the bikers arrived in East Hampton at 3:45 p.m. Their total time riding was seven hours and 45 minutes — an excellent showing given the scorching heat.
“Every time I was struggling, I would think of the idea of redemptive suffering in our faith and just realized that I’m offering this up for the people of my parish who have lost a loved one to the coronavirus,” said Father Heanue.
“The suffering that I endured … I chose that. These parishioners didn’t choose that. That gave us strength and gave me the willpower to keep going.”
The donation page for 100 Miles of Hope is still active. Visit gofundme.com/f/100-miles-of-hope or text “miles” to 718-550-6525 to support the great work of the Holy Child Jesus food pantry.
“We’re not called to live mediocre lives,” Father Heanue said. “We’re called to live our lives giving praise and glory to God in all things. To do extraordinary things, to push ourselves and to push our limits with God’s help is very important, and I hope that I was able to teach that lesson through this ride.”
If a non-athlete can bike 100 miles in extreme heat for a great cause, we can all band together to face our challenges — including the ongoing pandemic — head on.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.