San Bernardino County firefighters to pedal cross country to help their brothers with cancer

From left, members of Team Fire Velo Norton Strong are: Tim Goforth, Ricky Arnold, Travis Grapes and Sean Jackson. (Courtesy photo)
From left, members of Team Fire Velo Norton Strong are: Tim Goforth, Ricky Arnold, Travis Grapes and Sean Jackson. (Courtesy photo)
San Bernardino County Fire Department Engineer Cory Norton, of Big Bear Lake, and his family. Diagnosed with cancer in 2015, Cory is undergoing treatment now. (Courtesy photo)
San Bernardino County Fire Department Engineer Cory Norton, of Big Bear Lake, and his family. Diagnosed with cancer in 2015, Cory is undergoing treatment now. (Courtesy photo)

Heroism ascends to new levels when four San Bernardino County firefighters ride bicycles across America to help their brothers with cancer.

The firefighters begin their non-stop 3,000-mile ride Saturday — at sea level from the Oceanside Pier — crossing the Continental Divide at 10,865 feet through Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado before arriving at sea level again in Annapolis, Maryland.

In seven days.

Composed of local firefighters, “Team Fire Velo Norton Strong,” has entered the Race Across America Bicycle Event to raise funds and awareness of cancer diagnoses in the fire service.

They ride for fellow firefighters fighting an even bigger battle.

These are the guys who go into harm’s way to protect us from devastating fire and injury, sometimes sacrificing their own lives.

They will be pedaling for awareness of a cause that’s close to their hearts.

Several studies have found that firefighters may face cancer diagnoses at higher rates than the general population, despite advances in protective equipment and clothing.

From 102 percent greater risk for testicular cancer down to 21 percent greater for colon cancer, the increased risks from toxic substances are startling.

“We’re not dealing with legacy materials anymore such as wood and cotton,” said fire Captain Tim Goforth, of Station 91 in Lake Arrowhead, a member of the racing team.

“Everything these days is synthetic — plastic, nylon, foam rubber, veneers over particle board,” he added.

“This race gives me a chance to give back while doing something I love.”

The team of San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters Local 935, competing against 84 other teams from around the world, will pedal their way across 14 states in one week — technically, they have nine days but our team is aiming at seven to finish.

The Race Across America is one of the world’s toughest endurance events — 30 percent longer than the Tour de France, with zero rest days — completed in about half the time.

The racing concept for the team is a leap-frog across the country.

They will be racing in the four-person category, two teams of two.

Racers will be accompanied by a crew of 15, along with two chase vehicles and two RVs.

There will be one racer on the road at a time for five or six hours before the rider is relieved by his teammate.

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After 24 hours, the next team of two takes over — there is no stopping — except for gas.

There are certain cut-off times along the route. The first is Durango, Colorado, which they must reach within 61 hours.

The cut-off time to cross the finish line is 3 p.m. Monday, June 26, according to Capt. Goforth.

• “We go from 100 feet below sea level in Brawley, California to that 10,865-elevation pass in Colorado,” said Capt. Goforth, who is considered an “instigator” of this huge adventure and admits he has been riding bicycles for 49 years (turns out, he’s counting back to his first bike at age 3).

In addition to Tim, who lives in Apple Valley, team members include:

• Engineer/paramedic Travis Grapes, of Station 232 in San Bernardino, who lives in Hesperia. Travis’ previous competitions have included the grueling Ironman triathlon, as well as other Ironman events.

• Firefighter/paramedic Sean Jackson, who also works out of Station 91 in Lake Arrowhead, lives in Yucaipa. Riding for “32 years,” with competitions over the last 15, Sean says “Cycling brings me sanity — that’s why racing across the country isn’t crazy.”

• Engineer/paramedic Ricky Arnold, with Fire Station 312 in Victorville, lives in Apple Valley and has competed in numerous triathlons, including several Ironman events. He said “I’m riding to raise awareness of the high probability of getting cancer in the fire service unless proactive measures are taken through a properly developed health and wellness program.”

Engineer/paramedic Travis Grapes said the journey will cover 172,000 feet of climbing.

“The mental aspect will be grueling,” he said. “We’ll be pushing through.”

The heroes are our families, Travis added. “All of us racers have families who have sacrificed because of the time we’ve committed to this race.”

Funding raised for the team will go to the Fire Family Foundation, which will help the families of two of their San Bernardino County firefighter brothers — Engineer Cory Norton of Big Bear Lake, and Firefighter Jose Cruz of Victorville, both diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment.

Although the team is focused on firefighters in their department, they are also riding for firefighters overall.

Donations for the racers’ superhuman efforts are much appreciated.

Those wishing to help support the team with donations are asked to go to the YouCaring page and search for Team Fire Velo Norton Strong.

For more information, go to www.facebook.com/TeamFireVeloNortonStrong/ or twitter.com/SBCoFFLocal935.

Sponsors include San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 935; San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters Association; 911 Biocare; Don’s Bike Shop; Regal Mortgage; and Victorville Motors.

As Travis said, “I can suffer a bit on this ride because I’m inspired by friends I know are fighting a bigger battle.”

Michel Nolan appears in The Sun on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at mnolan@scng.com or on Twitter @MichelNolan.

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