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Fallen firefighters remembered during 24-hour ride

The subject line on the email Chris Myers sent to his doctor beforehand says it all — "An act of lunacy."

"Yes, I'm absolutely insane," Myers said.

How so? Well, he participated in the fifth annual 24 Hours of Booty, a charity cycling event that took place Aug. 25-26 in the Gateway area of Columbia.

It was his fourth Booty, which benefits the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, and this year Myers cranked out 345 miles. That's one two-mile lap over his goal of 343.

Why 343? That's the number of firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Last year's Columbia Booty (the ride takes its name from a loop in Charlotte, N.C.) was supposed to take place Sept. 11. Unfortunately, a hurricane caused its cancellation.

"I wanted to do something for the 343 firefighters that died on 9/11," the 51-year-old Howard County resident said. "I did 318 miles the year before last and I decided that I was going to do 343."

Myers found a website with thumbnail photos of all 343 fallen firefighters. He printed the pages, cut out the pictures in groups of two and put them in a small bag on the front of his bike.

Every time he started a new loop, he picked a set of pictures from the bag.

"I thought about the two guys, their names and what they did. They rode with me that lap."

Then he put the pictures of those two in the pocket of his jersey and picked another set of pictures.

At around 4 in the morning, when he was getting delirious from fatigue, Myers would pick the next two firefighters from his bag and think: "You ran into a burning tower, I can ride another lap.

"By the 16th, 18th hour, it's mental. Everything just hurts," he said.

Myers actually rode for more than 24 hours. He started at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday because he was worried that if he waited until the official 2 p.m. start something might come up that would make him miss his goal.

"I did not want to come up 10 short," he said.

The early start turned out to be a good thing as the riders were pulled off the course for 90 minutes during a strong downpour early Sunday morning.

Booty takes place rain or shine.

Myers said his first Booty ride was held in October and the temperature was in the low 40s — and it rained, which it seems to do for the Columbia Booty regardless of when it is held.

"That was very bad. Fortunately, someone had an office near the course and we would take turns putting our gloves and our hats in the microwave.

"This time wasn't bad at all."

There was a second fallen firefighter rider — Jim Brackett, who works at Princeton Sports — but the two didn't meet until the ride was three-fourths over.

"I saw this intense guy with his head down and he was really moving," Myers said. "He was kicking butt. …He definitely was doing 20s (miles per hour). …I'm a hack and he's an animal; he really did the job."

Brackett logged 397 miles before they closed the course. "That is unbelievable," Myers said.

Myers saved something special for his last lap — a chaplain and an Angel.

As he was cutting out the pairs of photos, he realized that New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge's photo was next to that of Angel Juarbe Jr. It seemed fitting that they should be part of the final two miles.

The Howard County Fire Department honored Myers' and Brackett's efforts — and those of the other riders — with a water arch at the end of the ride.

There were 405 registered riders at this year's Booty.

While the final count isn't in, Myers expects to raise $10,000.

Jim Gleason ($22,050), Stephen Carboni ($18,500) and Eben Block ($14,000) were the top individual fundraisers and bootySTRONG ($67,272), Social & Scientific Systems/Bethesda Edge Cycling Club ($58,000) and Team GP ($13,500) were the top team fundraisers.

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