Pedaling a message

Published 8:41 pm Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tandem bike: Bernice and Mike Miller are traveling 1,750 miles from Ocala, Fla., to Johnstown, N.Y., on their tandem bicycle to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. The couple stopped in Suffolk Friday, May 20, after riding a total of 1,065 miles since April 25.

Couple rides tandem up the coast for Lou Gehrig’s disease

Cycling 1,750 miles up the East Coast might seem crazy to the average person, but to Mike and Bernice Miller, it’s a good time for a good cause.

Since late April, the couple has been peddling their tandem bicycle from their home in Ocala, Fla. to their hometown of Johnstown, N.Y., to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It’s a good thing to give back to people and causes,” Mike said. “God has blessed Bernice and me with good health, and this is fun way to give back to our community.”

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The Millers, who are experienced cyclists, hope to raise $10,000 to donate to the ALS Association during their journey. They are more than halfway there, with $5,535 collected so far.

They get started early every morning and ride about 55 miles during the day before stopping for the night. After traveling 1,065 miles, the couple stopped in Suffolk on Friday.

This isn’t the first time they have ridden for charity, but this ride is personal. Mike, who is a financial consultant, was inspired to ride for Lou Gehrig’s disease when one of his clients asked him to wear an awareness bracelet for the illness.

Lou Gehrig’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition in which nerve cells in the brain that control motor skills die and cause muscles to weaken and eventually become paralyzed. About 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease every year, according the ALS Association.

Mike’s client, Mike Sukennikoff, has lived with Lou Gehrig’s disease for the past four years. He is 72 years old and is completely paralyzed in his right arm.

After Sukennikoff gave him the bracelet, Mike said they decided to take the trip to bring attention to a disease that does not get much notice.

Sukennikoff was thrilled with their decision.

“He was just blown away, and he was so excited we were going to ride for him,” Bernice said.

With a tandem bicycle, Mike and Bernice certainly do create attention everywhere they go.

“When you pull up somewhere with a tandem, people talk to you,” Mike said. “Everyone talks to you.”

Bernice said people of all ages and backgrounds are curious about their mission.

“It gives us a real platform for a charity that might not get it otherwise,” Mike said.

When people ask questions, the couple tells them what they are riding for and discusses the disease.

Mike said most of the people they have meet along the way are familiar with the disease, and some even know someone who has been diagnosed.

“We are meeting people that have been touched by it more than I expected,” he said.

All of the money they have collected has been from donations by people they have encountered along the way.

They said their trip has been filled with great encounters with very friendly people and historic landmarks.

But this trip has been different then the couple’s other four long-distance rides because, for the first time, they had to stop mid-ride.

Mike and Bernice had to halt their travels when Bernice’s mother passed away in the middle of their journey. The two immediately flew from Georgia, where they were at the time, to her mother’s house.

When they arrived, Bernice found a magazine, lying open on her mother’s counter, with an article about their ride in it. She said she knew then they needed to complete the ride.

After a weeklong pause, they got back on the road.

They stopped in Suffolk on their 19th day of riding, their 26th day overall.

Bernice and Mike don’t think what they are doing is crazy, even though they admit it’s ironic they have never driven to New York because “it’s too far.”

“People look at us and say, ‘Oh, I could never do that,’” she said. “All of us can do way more than we think we can. We limit ourselves only in our minds.”

The couple will stop in Williamsburg tomorrow, and if their schedule holds up, Mike and Bernice hope to make it to Johnstown by June 8.

Mike and Bernice are documenting their journey daily on their website. To follow their trip, visit or to donate for their ride, visit

Learn more about Lou Gehrig’s disease at