As they rode from downtown Basking Ridge to the White House in Washington, D.C., a group of cyclists raising funds and awareness to combat ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) caught the attention of drivers as they passed by the riders wearing bike gear tht advertised their mission.
Some of those drivers made donations through the Facebook page for BIKE 4 ALS, said township resident and avid cyclist John Carpenter, who said he was one of eight to make the entire trip to and from the nation's capitol.
The group with members from the Liberty Cycle bike team joined up with BIKE 4 ALS founder Brian Ennesser of Cranford, his brother George Ennesser to make the four-day ride, including two days down and two days back, Carpenter said.
Carpenter said that he, Liberty Cycle owner Greg Cordasco, Joe Gaziano, Paul Acomb, Paul Stockham and others, including friends of the Ennesser family were part of the third annual bike trip fundraiser for BIKE 4 ALS. The organization was founded after the Ennesser brothers' mother, Lois, died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2009.
Carpenter said he had ridden partially because the brother of his brother-in-law, Basking Ridge native Tom Shea, had been lost to ALS. Carpenter said the disease is not as rare as many people believe.
ALS not as rare as believed
"You think it's kind of rare, but if you talk to a group of five or ten people you almost always find that one or two have a story" regarding a friend or family member who had ALS, Carpenter said.
Carpenter said he feels strongly about the organization since it run by family members without overhead, and the money donated to BIKE 4 ALS goes directly to research.
BIKE 4 ALS announced its partnership with New Brunswick-based Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital on its website.
Carpenter said Brian Ennesser, a former Army Ranger, is an inspiration. "Being an Army Ranger, he's the type of person who takes action."
Reception at White House in D.C.
When the cyclists arrived at the White House, Carpenter said the group was allowed in the gates and — after a loop around the property — were greeted at a reception by the U.S. Secret Service.
The reason: Jim Sloan, a former Secret Service Agent and Cranford police officer was another person lost to ALS, and listed as one of "The Reasons For Our Ride" by BIKE 4 ALS, according to the group's website and Anthony Sciarrillo, who described Brian Ennesser as his best friend, and sent information on the ride to the Basking Ridge Patch.
"My friend has struggled with the lost of his mother, but instead of sitting home and blaming someone, Brian has started a cause called "BIKE4ALS," Sciarrillo wrote. "This is our third year raising money for ALS research and patient services. Over the last three years we have raised over $30,000."
He said he lost his own uncle, Mount Laurel police officer Dominic Calabrese, to the disease.
Sciarrillo said the cyclists were planning their halfway stop at Mount Laurel and planned to be back for a Sunday night "Finish Line Party" at the Cranford Hotel.
"If you knew Brian, as well as I do, you would know that he will not stop at this simple bicycle ride to help bring awareness to our community of this evil disease," Sciarrillo wrote. "Each and every day Brian serves our country. Brian served our country during the War in Iraq and continues today to put his life in the way of danger as an agent in the federal government. He is a man who wants to help in any way he can."
Following last year's ride to Washington, Brian Ennesser told the Cranford Patch that his mother had been diagnosed with Bulbar onset ALS in July of 2009. He said she, as many ALS patients are, was misdiagnosed because there is no test for ALS.
"My mom was originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. With Bulbar ALS, the progression of the disease starts in the face instead of with the limbs. This is the worst type of ALS one can get. My mom probably had this disease for a year before she passed away but she was only alive for three months after being diagnosed,” Ennesser said.
Ennesser went on to explain this disease. “Lou Gehrig’s disease takes away a person’s dignity. You become a prisoner in your own body. Mentally, your brain is working fine. You aware of everything that is going on around you, you just can’t move, talk, or speak.”
Ennesser explained how his mother persevered in spite of her suffering. Lois would force herself to summon the strength to say “I love you” to her family every night. She kept her position at the Cranford Health Department as long as she could, refusing to use a cane or a walker until her doctors told her she had to stop working.
“ALS may have robbed my mom of her life but she never let it beat her or define who she was,” Ennesser said. “Whenever you speak to any family that has gone through this, you can see in their eyes how angry and sad they are. ALS steals your voice. That’s why at BIKE 4 ALS we say that we are giving a 'voice to the voiceless.'”
After his mom passed away in September of 2009, Ennesser began to talk with close friends about how he would honor his mother’s memory.
“I decided that I wanted to cycle from New York to Virginia Beach in memory of my mom and Anthony’s Uncle Dominick to help raise money for ALS research,” he said. Ennesser then approached his trainers Greg Cordasco and Ian Huges who donated their time at Liberty Cycle in Basking Ridge to help him train.
Ennesser said he was also joined by two other cyclists, Acomb and Stockham, whom he had met through the cycling club at Liberty Cycle.
"They offered to ride with me. If it wasn’t for those two guys, those days out on the road would have been a lot tougher,” Ennesser said in the interview last year with the Cranford Patch.
Information from a story by Emily Everson is included in this story.