Had you been at Northern Essex Community College on July 22, you would have noticed a steady stream of bike riders geared toward a vital destination. They were there pushing their pedals forward in the 19th annual Cycle for Shelter to benefit Emmaus and its mighty fight to curb homelessness in the community. No fewer than 225 cyclists took to the road — 100 of them engaged in a century (100-mile) ride and the others settling for 62 and 27 miles. The weather was bright and so were the spirits of the riders and the many volunteers and guests.

In case you didn’t know, this course made its way to the “Favorite 50” list in USA Bicycling Magazine.

The event was sponsored by Merrimack Valley Credit Union, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Pentucket Bank and 92.5 The River. Complimentary massages were provided by the Amesbury Center for Healing and foot spas were by The Body Shop at Home. When all was said and done, some $70,000 was raised through pledges and contributions for lifesaving programs for homeless families and individuals.

Since its formation in 1985, Emmaus has assisted nearly 18,000 men, women and children out of homelessness and into permanent housing, jobs and self-sufficiency. Ninety cents of every dollar goes directly to programs.

Take it from John Cote, 38, who arrived in a recumbent trike (3-wheeled bike) and did 100 miles in just over 5 hours. Not bad for a guy diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004 that could have killed him. He suffered a stroke in the hospital seven hours after surgery.

“Doctors were ready to pull the plug on me,” he recalled. “I was basically a vegetable.”

Cote found solace in bicycling after following advice from a therapist. He’s been riding the trike for three years now and is gearing up for the Pan Mass Challenge on Aug. 4 — a 192-mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown to benefit the Jimmy Fund.

Twice he’s done the Best Buddies, a 94-mile distance from Boston to Hyannisport to benefit people with intellectual disabilities. This year alone, Cote has amassed 3,000 miles and it’s only August. Since his surgery, he’s biked 6,000 miles in all.

“I want other cyclists to respect me,” he said. “Cycling has vastly improved the quality of my life and instilled a ‘can-do’ attitude in me. I would have had many more health issues without it. Obstacles only have power over you when you give them that power. I haven’t.”

Century rides tend to be routine for others like John Takis, a 54-year-old pipefitter who does two to three of these distances a year, as well as five to six triathlons. Like others, he’s bullish about Emmaus.

“My wife (Maureen) and I volunteer to serve meals,” he said. “This is my favorite ride, given the scenery and how well organized the ride is. Volunteers do a tremendous job. Biking keeps me in touch with the environment and there’s no better way to appreciate nature.”

Massage therapist Kathy Valvanis, owner of Body Works, volunteered her time and by the time she was done, 10 cyclists had left her table. She found her career as both a biker and runner for the Merrimack Valley Striders.

The finishers came two, four and six at a time with as much zest as Tour de France riders. More than one cyclist admitted this was a destination ride for the more serious bikers around. Every finisher received a round of applause. Many of them were repeats. Others got the word over the Internet. Organizers like Gretchen Arntz, Rachel Thompson and Jeanine Murphy left no stone unturned in attracting a crowd.

They did it with an abundance of food to suit any appetite and enough raffle prizes to open a gift shop. They did it with a lot of sweat and hard work.

“A lot of physical exertion goes into it to help other people,” said Murphy, who’s been with Emmaus for 20 years. “Bikers love the course but more importantly, they love the cause.”

Others, like former Haverhill High cross country coach John Opolski and local road race organizer Dave LaBrode, complimented the Emmaus staff for a job well done.

A look of pride fell across the face of David Hartleb. As president of NECC, he felt a special joy to see his facility so well employed — and for good reason.

Hartleb is also chairman of the Emmaus board, and he showed up wearing two hats on this day.

With everyone’s help, new records can be set, new trails can be blazed and new initiatives can be formed to fight homelessness.

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