By LISA SPENGLER
Our journey through life is filled with potholes, detours and roadblocks. How you get through those obstacles is what builds strength and character. To find inspiration when struggling through those challenging times, you need to look no further than to the journey of Jared Fenstermacher.
On Saturday, the 35-year-old Fenstermacher arrived in Ocean City, his final stop on his cross-country cycling trip. What makes this final stop so remarkable is that his cycling trip began on Aug. 11, 2016.
On that day in 2016, Fenstermacher began his personal quest to cycle cross-country from Oregon. His mission was to raise money for the For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation (FPS).
Eighteen days into a 30-day bicycle trip, Fenstermacher hit an unforeseeable roadblock.
His ride ended tragically in Hinton, Iowa. There, he was struck by a truck traveling at highway speed. He was paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, broke both humeri in his biceps and suffered from a concussion.
He spent nearly a month at MercyOne Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, and then was transferred to a rehabilitation center for another six weeks.
One month ago, in spite of his injuries, which brought additional challenges, Fenstermacher began cycling the 1,200 miles he had left from his 2016 ride. The life-altering roadblock he hit in 2016 now appeared to be just a detour.
With his bicycle now powered by his hands, not his feet, his commitment to himself and to FPS was stronger than ever. He began this second leg with what many consider a feat of unimaginable strength.
The second leg of his cycling ride began in Hilton, Iowa, where his accident happened. He then rode through Cedar Rapids and Davenport, Iowa, to Chicago, South Bend, Ind., Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and finally Ocean City.
After a stop at the Welcome Center on the Rt. 52 Causeway, Fenstermacher was escorted by Ocean City police and fire vehicles as cheering residents and visitors lined his route from Ninth Street to the Music Pier.
Waiting at the Music Pier for Fenstermacher’s arrival, Mayor Jay Gillian said, “We are just excited for him to get here. Heroes, like Jared, have given so much to help others and cancer patients.”
At the Music Pier, other Ocean City dignitaries, including City Council President Bob Barr and Council Vice President Michael DeVlieger, and representatives from the nonprofit For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation officially welcomed Fenstermacher to Ocean City.
When asked, “Why Ocean City?” Fenstermacher replied, “I wanted to know that there would be people at the end.”
By ending his ride in Ocean City, he knew that his family in Egg Harbor Township, his parents in Reading, Pa., and his cycling team Blue Bell Health Management based in Spring City, Pa., would all be there.
But with near summer-like temperatures and a Boardwalk filled with residents and visitors, Fenstermacher was greeted by an overflowing crowd of well-wishers cheering him to the finish.
“I’m just grateful that I have impact, not only on cancer patients, but on others,” Fenstermacher said.
Ocean City resident Steven Lesser read about Fenstermacher’s ride from the Mayor’s Message on the Ocean City website.
“I couldn’t miss watching this inspirational story unfold,” Lesser said.
Lesser watched as now, four years later, Fenstermacher completed his coast-to-coast bicycle trip in a show of resilience and courage.
“He is the ultimate hero and having him finish in Ocean City is a testament to what we stand for here,” Barr said. “His intestinal fortitude is a message of hope to everyone.”
On the original trip, Fenstermacher raised $10,000 for FPS. The last 1,200 miles he rode to raise money for FPS as well. FPS enables cancer patients and their loved ones to strengthen, deepen and unify their relationships by creating unforgettable and lasting respite experiences.
Eligible patients, along with their caregivers, receive a one-week, expense-paid respite vacation to select locations along the East Coast and in the Caribbean. For Pete’s Sake owns two respite homes near Orlando, Fla., and relies on donated vacation homes to supplement additional stays. For more information, visit https://takeabreakfromcancer.org.
From Abington Pa., Joannie Harkinson, Jenna Patrick and Debbie Melcher Hinks, were spending the day in a celebration of life for Joannie’s husband, who passed away from cancer five months ago.
When hearing about Fenstermacher’s arrival and that his ride was to raise money for FPS, Harkinson shared that she knew all too well the benefits of the foundation through personal experience.
Alisa Tammara, community events coordinator at FPS, initially met Fenstermacher four years ago when he contacted them to do a fundraising event. The event was his coast-to-coast cycling ride.
“Since I first met Jared, he has always been an inspiration. He is full of determination and true grit,” said Tammara. “He is a man of hope. The challenges he has encountered provide hope for our cancer patients.”
Saturday was the first time Tammara had seen Fenstermacher since he left the rehabilitation facility.
Ironically, Harkinson and Tammara connected through a mutual friend.
“To be here today to celebrate my husband and then to meet Alyssa – well, that is what we say, all meant to be,” Harkinson said.
There wasn’t one person who witnessed Fenstermacher’s final ride into Ocean City that didn’t use the words hero, inspirational or miraculous to describe him.
“In a world so divided, this is one of those inspiring moments that we all need,” said Marci Schankweiler, CEO and founder of For Pete’s Sake.
“Jared brings hope to everyone who faces challenges,” Schankweiler added.
With Jared’s journey coming to an end, no one was more relieved to see him cross the finish line than his parents, Lynn and Bob Fenstermacher.
“I already received that one call. I didn’t need another,” Lynn said, referring to her son’s accident in Iowa. “I’m relieved this day is finally here.”
As her son arrived at the Welcome Center, Lynn was finally able to take that much needed sigh of relief.
Saturday was the second and final day for closure for both Jared and his parents.
“Jared did meet with the driver of the truck that hit him in Hilton, Iowa,” Lynn said. “After the meeting, finding the closure he needed, he pulled off to the side of the road as he was overcome with a flood of emotion.”
She continued by saying that an officer saw the vehicle on the side of the road and stopped to see if he needed help.
Jared told the officer that he just forgave the man who hit him in 2016.
The officer replied, “And I was the officer on the scene that night.”
“That was a sign from God that Jared did the right thing by forgiving the driver,” Lynn said as tears began to form in her eyes.