By Sue Botos
When Welcome House Executive Director Tony Thomas says he’s going for a bike ride, he’s not just talking about a trip around the block.
As a veteran long-distance runner and cyclist, it’s not unusual for Thomas to rack up in excess of 50 to 60 miles on a ride. But he’s now training for the longest journey of his career, the two-day, 230-mile VeloSano, July 19-20. The Cleveland to Erie, Pa., and back challenge is a fundraiser for Cleveland Clinic cancer research, but Thomas hopes to also pedal his way to donations for Welcome House, which provides residential services to individuals with developmental disabilities.
Thomas said that he originally became interested in cycling about 18 years ago, when knee problems began making running painful. On the advice of his doctor, Alan Hrish, Thomas started riding with an informal group near his East Side home.
“I ended up getting totally absorbed. Unlike running, cycling is more social. It’s easier to get up in the morning if you’re meeting other people for a ride,” Thomas commented in a recent phone interview.
So far, Thomas said, his longest cycling trip has been a one-day, 125-mile ride to Peninsula. VeloSano will require a 110-mile trek to Liberty Park in Erie, then after an overnight stay at Mercyhurst University, a return trip of 120 miles back to Cleveland.
“Many of the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic will be participating, and they twisted my arm to do this,” Thomas commented. “Two hundred and 30 miles is a lot, but I will be doing it with friends.” He added that the event is well-organized, with scheduled “pit stops” and support from a “sag wagon” vehicle, which will carry extra bike parts, water and first aid equipment for the riders.
Thomas said that he will donate the first $2,000 he raises to the Clinic, and the rest to Welcome House. “Both organizations are near and dear to me,” Thomas said. “So when I committed to doing this event, I decided it was best, and different, for me to donate some of the proceeds to the Clinic and some to Welcome House. I have lofty goals, so any support of my efforts would not only be appreciated, but go to two amazing causes and benefit hundreds of people.”
Having just returned from a distance bike ride in Santa Fe, N.M., Thomas noted he has gradually been building up his mileage, working his way up to back-to-back days of over 100 miles each. He said the second day of VeloSano will no doubt begin with a big breakfast of oatmeal, toast and juice. Nutrition and hydration is also important along the route, and Thomas revealed that Fig Newtons were the ideal energy source.
As cycling becomes ever more popular, Thomas noted that the “tide may be turning” for the better when it comes to drivers and cyclists sharing the road. “If (bike) riders are extra cautious, it will work out better,” he stated.
Although Thomas has also set a goal of biking the 19 miles from his Cleveland Heights home to his Westlake office about 10 times a year, he has not totally abandoned running. In 2010, he ran to the Welcome House offices, which were then in Rocky River, from home. He commented that he is thinking about making the run again. “I’ll go at least part of the way with a running group,” he stated.
To donate to Thomas’ ride,
go to www.welcomehouseinc.org or www.VeloSano.org and search for Tony Thomas.