Source: Sherman Publications

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Biking for wishes

by Wendi Reardon

May 25, 2011

Sashabaw Middle School teacher Howard Andress asked his students to help with a math problem.

He needed to raise $2,500 for Wish-A-Mile for the Make-A-Wish event he is participating in July. How much could be raised with their help by the July 1 deadline?

One way students could solve the math problem was to donate $1 if they wanted to wear a hat or pajama bottoms to school on May 13.

The donations amounted to $1,300, more than Andress had anticipated because usually when students participate it generates $300.

"The support has been fabulous," he said. "The kids were just wonderful. They were very excited and high fiving me in the halls. Even kids not even in my math classes."

Many went beyond the donation and mailed a check to Make-A-Wish or through Andress' website on www.wishmich.org.

Wish-A-Mile is the biggest fundraiser for Make-A-Wish in Michigan and bicyclists travel 300 miles in three days. The goal is to raise enough for 300 wishes.

Andress has been involved with the ride for the last couple of years after hearing about it through friends.

"I looked it up online," he said. "I thought this is a wonderful thing and I want to be part of it. I love to bike ride."

Andress and a group of friends put a team together called Paige's Peloton.

"It is fun to do as a team because you help motivate each other," he added. "You ride together which is fun because it is long rides and a comradery of riding together."

The ride begins in Traverse City on July 29 with 115 miles.

"It is pretty hilly up there so somewhat of a challenge," said Andress, an experienced rider. "There is always chatter of people calling out hazards like holes and gravel.

The next day is 100 miles and the final day is 85 miles. Before concluding the ride they go through a stretch called the "Silent Mile."

"It is quite emotional," said Andress. "They have a 16-inch stick and a star on it with a photo of a recipient. It is every few feet for the whole mile. You realize why we are doing this. It really chokes you up."

After recovering the riders finish at the fairgrounds in Chelsea for the "Heroes Hurrah" finish line celebration.

Andress explained Make-A-Wish recipients announce the riders names and place a medal around the riders' necks when they go up on the stage.

"It's very moving," he said.

He admitted once the ride is done he wants to do it again and go through the small towns and the route again.

"It is a nice way to feel part of the surroundings," Andress noted. "That is what I like about biking, you can take in everything around you and get there pretty quickly."

He said another benefit is he encourages his students to be active and most ride their bikes and go outside.

"I tell them 'I am an old guy and can do it, so you can do it,'" he joked. "They will come in on Monday morning and say 'I went on a 12-mile bike ride.' They are excited to talk about it. It is a different way to interact with your world."

Andress has riden long distances before. The longest distance was when he was in high school and rode a bicycle up to Mackinaw.

"I always wanted to do it as I was growing up as a kid," he said.

When school gets out he will be training for the 300-mile bike ride with long bike rides and will work up to 100 miles per day.

He also participates in bike races and triathlons and is part of the Craig Greenfield Memorial Triathlon and Marathon. Unfortunately this year it falls on July 31, the same day as Wish-A-Mile.

Andress would like to ride across the country one summer but right now runs a summer math program.

He has taught for 15 years, all of them in Clarkston.

"I love it here," Andress said. "The kids are wonderful and it is a great community. It is a very gratifying job and it is very rewarding. The kids response well to fundraising events because we do a number of them. They have a caring nature and that is a reflection of the community and the parents."

Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes for seriously ill children. This year marks the 24th year of riding to grant wishes. Over 700 riders participate in the event and just as many volunteer to help out.

To donate, go to www.wishmich.org, click on events. Then, choose Wish-A-Mile and click on donate to a participant.

"It is a wonderful event and it is exciting to be involved," said Andress. "It is a feel good experience."