Lengthy bicycle journey raises funds for arthritis

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Every Sunday morning for the past seven years, Jeff Krakoff and friends have gathered at a school field in Upper St. Clair to play a pickup game of soccer.

Some of the players are avid bikers, so the group decided to take a long-distance bicycle ride.

They chose a 334-mile route between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., consisting of the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, which links to the 184-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Md. Six of the soccer players and three spouses and friends completed the trip, starting Aug. 29 and finishing on Labor Day, traveling about 65 miles a day over five hours.

They did more than ride their bikes, however. Since Aug. 19, the effort has raised almost $6,000 for the Arthritis Foundation, and they are still accepting donations through Sept. 30.

"It is the most anyone has seen raised in that short amount of time," said Beth Brown, vice president of the Arthritis Foundation Western Pennsylvania Chapter.

The foundation became the beneficiary of the ride when Mr. Krakoff, 49, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, discovered while training for the trip that he felt much better after biking.

He contacted the Arthritis Foundation about using the ride to raise awareness and funds for the organization's efforts to conquer the disease.

In addition to Mr. Krakoff of Upper St. Clair, the group consisted of Kurt Meissner, Vic Walczak and Jonathan and Ellen Hart, all of Upper St. Clair; Peter Chiste of Peters; Craig and Laura Hoffman of Bethel Park; and Lori Heinecke of South Park.

Two vehicles driven by spouses and hauling suitcases, gear, an extra bike, equipment and more followed the riders. They slept at bed-and-breakfasts along the way.

In addition to the scenery and historical lessons the trail offers, Mr. Krakoff, who owns Krakoff Communications Inc., enjoyed the camaraderie.

"You don't get to know people that well playing soccer, but we got to know each other doing this," he said.

Mr. Hoffman, 41, a project manager for a local software company, said the biggest challenge was hanging back and then catching up to the group in his role as designated photographer.

"I did not want the trip to go undocumented," he said.

He said the best part was he and his wife, who are the parents of three children, having time to themselves.

"Just a half-mile off the highway and we were in woods. It gives a whole new perspective from our busy day-to-day lives," he said.

Mr. Chiste, 55, enjoyed the winding of the scenic trails through towns and along old locks.

An investment manager who hadn't ridden a bike in 35 years, he credited the riding with a "dramatic reduction in pain level" from the osteoarthritis he has in one knee.

Mrs. Hart, 49, a stay-at-home mom, who has arthritis in one knee and a torn meniscus in the other, said the cycling has strengthened her knees and she no longer has symptoms.

Her husband, 46, a real estate director, has arthritis in one of his ankles. He said the hardest part was the constant climbing for 45 miles into mountains just before Frostburg, Md.

"But it fosters a great sense of accomplishment and achievement," he said.

Mrs. Heinecke, 57, a chiropractic assistant, rides a stationary bike for her arthritis but said she is now motivated to do more outdoor biking.

The term arthritis encompasses more than 100 diseases and conditions that affect joints, surrounding tissues and other connective tissues.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., with nearly 50 million Americans today having been diagnosed with it.

Ms. Brown said that in Pennsylvania, 1 in 3 adults has arthritis, which is likely due to the older population in the region.

Mr. Krakoff called the fundraising bike ride "an adventure of a lifetime in so many ways.

"First, we all completed it, and we're not avid bikers. Second, we raised so much money from people we know and total strangers," he said.

"It proves every single one of us can make a difference."

For information or to donate through Sept. 30: www.crowdrise.com/bikeride/fundraiser/jeffkrakoff or Arthritis Foundation Western Pennsylvania Chapter at 412-250-3341.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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