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Monday, November 20 Local

United Ride through region pays tribute to 9/11

Thousands of bikers — many with American flags flowing from their motorcycles — gathered Sunday for the 17 annual CT United Ride to pay tribute to those lost during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Every single year, you come back, and every single year, you give back,” Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling told the estimated 2,500 riders as they assembled at Nordan Park in Norwalk for a 60-mile trip that began in the city and wove through Westport, Wilton, Redding, Bethel, Monroe, Trumbull and Fairfield before ending at Seaside Park in Bridgeport.

Fred Garrity, the executive director of the event, said the ride began after 9/11 as a way to show support for first responders and those who were affected by the tragedy and to raise funds for various charitable organizations. Registration fees for the ride are donated to two local United Way chapters and other groups that support first responders.

“What we were able to do was bottle up that patriotism, that camaraderie,” Garrity said.

Jim Curley, who volunteers for the event, said the first year there were only about 800 riders. “It’s tripled since then,” he noted.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, expressed gratitude for the show of patriotism, adding: “We made a promise 16 years ago that we would never forget.” Duff said.

At Seaside Park in Bridgeport, where the ride concluded, a huge American flag hung in the background, held aloft by a city firetruck.

The riders enjoyed a warm sunny day with outstanding views of Long Island Sound and munched on free hot dogs and burgers. Many wandered between rows and rows of parked bikes, admiring the types and various paint jobs, and often pointing to those that caught their attention.

“It’s a great cause,” said Eric Stephens of Bridgeport, who participated in the ride with his buddies. “The ride was excellent.”

‘Volunteering for days’

Marcy Manes of Fairfield recalled how her husband, firefighter Joe Risola, traveled to New York to aid in the aftermath of 9/11.

“He was down at the towers volunteering for four days,” Manes said of her husband. “I love being here because it makes me feel safe knowing I’m surrounded by firefighters.”

Rory Amaya of Norwalk remembered the first rally 17 years ago, noting “it got bigger and bigger every year. I want to support everybody’s family who were involved.”

Miguel Perez of Bridgeport said he tries to not miss the annual ride.

“I’ve been doing it since 2009 — never fails,” Perez said. “As a matter of fact, I just came in from the airport, straight from Atlanta. Haven’t slept.”

Perez said it’s impressive how each town helps the ride pass through its borders by temporarily closing streets and protecting the bikers. “I love driving through the towns — you hear the sirens, see supporters, the firemen are standing at attention. It’s beautiful,” he said.

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Hero Luu, who traveled from Meriden to take part in the ride, said what happened on 9/11 is plenty of a reason to participate. But, he noted with a smile, “It’s also a chance to be with friends. It’s bonding.”

George Medrano of Norwalk brought his 14-year-old son along on the back of his bike. The two adorned their helmets with the faces of cartoon characters, which they said drew compliments and attention.

“It’s a great time,” Medrano said. “I love that after all these years people still show support and remember what it’s all about.”

Myrna Vivo, of Bridgeport, said she has a son in the Air Force and a daughter in college who also plans to enter the Air Force.

“We were all at work,” Vivo said, recalling where she was when the planes hit the World Trade Center’s twin towers in Manhattan.

“It was devastating,” she said. “This is a way to participate and let them know we are there and we support them.”

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