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05/18/2010

ICE SSA Ellen Pierson shares her experiences and thoughts on the Police Unity Tour

ICE SSA Ellen Pierson shares her experiences and thoughts on the Police Unity Tour

ICE Office of Public Affairs (OPA): You've been participating in the Police Unity Tour (PUT) for nine years now. How and why did you begin participating?

Pierson: In 2001 I attended the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (NLEOM) services in Washington, D.C. I was fortunate enough to see the arrival of the Police Unity Tour at the NLEOM that year. As an avid cyclist and agent, I was hooked.

On September 11, 2001, all our lives changed. I knew I had to participate in the PUT to honor the fallen officers. I pulled my 10-year-old Cannondale bicycle out and started training. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. My mother drove me to Morris Township, New Jersey, to start my adventure. It was 40 degrees and raining when we started cycling to Washington. I looked at the other cyclists. Not only was I the only Floridian, I was the only one in shorts. I had a lot to learn!

I got home, bought myself a new bicycle and started really training. I bought some cycling tights too.

From 2002 to present, I have ridden from Virginia Beach, Va., to Washington, D.C., every year from May 10 to May 12. In 2006, I joined a group of 20 law enforcement officers and pedaled 1,000 miles from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Ga., to Washington, D.C. I have participated in this ride for the past five years. It is somewhat different than the official PUT in that we have numerous ceremonies over the entire route honoring fallen officers. We meet with the families and officers from the departments. The ride is very challenging but it's an experience you will always remember, even after your body stops reminding you.

OPA: Do you have a personal reason for participating?

Pierson: I think every law enforcement officer knows someone whose name is engraved on the NLEOM. I know four. I ride to honor their memory and show their families that they will never be forgotten.

OPA: What is the most rewarding aspect of the ride?

Pierson: Meeting the families who have lost someone. I met James Guerry two years ago. James's father was Deputy Chief Guerry of the police department in Georgetown, S.C. Deputy Chief Guerry was killed in the line of duty when James was a little boy. James rode 20 miles in the rain with us this year to honor his dad. I am sure his dad was pushing him up those hills he climbed and smiling.

I have super memories and stories from every ride. I've met different folks every year; most remain lifetime friends.

OPA: Tell us about the physical hardships… uphill climbs, cold…rain….wind…etc. 

Pierson: The first several days of the ride are pretty flat with some gentle rolling hills and a few big bridges. Then we hit Virginia. Well, I've lived in Florida most of my life. The hills are very challenging for me but you look ahead, keep pedaling and before you know it you are sailing down the other side and setting up for the next hill.

OPA: Sounds like a metaphor for life.

Pierson: True. My friends on the ride laugh when I tell them I rode the hills in Florida for training. Several of us ride in Clermont, Florida, to train on the third highest point in the state. It's about 342 feet.

I have ridden in the PUT when it was 90 degrees. One day of it was canceled due to rain, and other times I've had to wear winter tights.

The wind. Ask most cyclists and they will take hills over wind any day. One year we rode north as subtropical storm Andrea was coming south. We could not go any faster than 12 mph. That was a trip I will never forget. We all worked together and got to Washington, D.C., safely.

OPA: Have you or anyone else ever dropped out before the ride was over because of injury or exhaustion?

Pierson: Me, HAHAHAHAH never. Well, I did get in the van in New Jersey when I was suffering from hyperthermia. I have never gotten in the van since. I am a lot smarter cyclist now. Train more, hydrate, equipment is better, etc.

The year it was 90 degrees, about seven cyclists went to the hospital for heat exhaustion.

OPA: What do you do to train each year for the PUT?

Pierson: I ride all year but in January I start training for the PUT. I attend spin class and a boot camp at the local YMCA. I will ride long rides on the weekends building up to 80 plus miles or so by April. This year I rode 1,300 miles from January to mid-April training for this event.

OPA: If others want to participate, what's the most important thing they should know?

Pierson: Riding a bike a few miles is not challenging, but, cycling in a pack of 200 riders with hills and bridges for long distances is quite different. Practice.

OPA: Do you think the PUT has changed or brought insight that you wouldn't otherwise have had?

Pierson: Yes. I think every officer needs to see the surviving members of another officer's family. If I pass in the line of duty, I would like to know that my brothers and sisters in blue continue to watch out for my family.

OPA: How do you feel when you reach the destination, the NLEOM?

Pierson: I am grateful for another safe year. I am sad for the families that are present, but honored to ride for their loved one. Each PUT cyclists is given a bracelet with the name of an officer who has died in the line of duty. Each cyclist wears the bracelet throughout the ride. When you are cold, hot, hungry, or hurting, the bracelet reminds you of why we are here. After the Candlelight Vigil, the cyclist presents the bracelet to the family of the fallen. It's very difficult to describe, but you know the family appreciates what you have done.