Memories of son inspire cyclist's nationwide mission

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Ray Brook has embraced a humanitarian mission that will see him bicycling tens of thousands of solitary miles in 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces before the end of 2001. Because he's 60 and plans to ride in a total of 60 states or provinces and visit 60 Rotary Clubs, he's nicknamed his bike trip "60 Cycle."

"When people hear about my mission, usually the first question is, 'Are you crazy or what?'" said Brook, who pedaled the Alaska leg of his journey Tuesday in Juneau.

His passion "comes from the fact that he has two lives to live." One is the life of his son and only child, Ron, who died of cystic fibrosis at age 26. "Doctors told us he would live to only 4 or 5, so my wife and I were glad to have him that long. But 26 isn't half a life, so I am going to fulfill his dreams as well as my own."

As he lay in his hospital bed, Ron was asked by doctors to describe his father in one word; he answered "healthy." This single word inspired Brook to become a role model in healthy living - hiking and cycling - and healthy giving.

Brook retired a year ago after being a sales manager for Proctor & Gamble for 35 years. He had visited Alaska previously on business trips, but decided the state is so big he would only bicycle in Juneau. He arrived Tuesday morning, borrowed wheels and a helmet from Downtown Rotary Club President Scott Fischer, owner of the Foggy Mountain Shop, and rode with Fischer to the Mendenhall Glacier and back.

Brook, a Rotarian from Mercer Island, Wash., spoke to the downtown club - the 35th on his tour - during a luncheon on Tuesday about his plan and the nonprofit corporation, SuMMit Seekers, he has founded as its umbrella.

Brook began his trip in Hawaii in January, riding 844 miles on the Big Island during a period of 10 days. He returned to Mercer Island to celebrate his 60th birthday Feb. 6 with his wife, Betty.

Between Feb. 16 and March 13, he rode from San Diego to Florida. He took a week off, then zig-zagged west on his custom-made titanium Serotta, arriving back in Mercer Island on Memorial Day. Next he pedaled from Seattle to San Diego.

His vision is "of a world where every child grows up with the opportunity to grow up and be what he can be." Brook said he was not speaking of "Third-World kids" necessarily, but of "kids right here in Juneau with emotionally absent parents." With 60 Cycle, he hopes to recruit Rotarians to become mentors to youths, "to show up and be there for them, to listen and given them unconditional acceptance."

Vision holds hands with purpose. SuMMit Seekers is dedicated to youth leadership education, and Brook is challenging Rotarians to become part of a global mentoring network. Details can be found on his Web site, summitseekers.org.

Rotary District 5010 Gov. Wanda Cooksey applauded Brook's plan, which fits in with the organization's theme, "Mankind is our business." "When we mentor and work with young people, we are doing mankind's business," Cooksey said.

During 60 Cycle, Brook is keeping a journal as the basis for a book. The journal concentrates on "stories of goodness and kindness." For example, on April 6 he telephoned his wife from a pay phone in the gathering dusk of Bradshaw, W.Va. Although Bradshaw doesn't have a motel, Betty wasn't in favor of his camping in the woods. As he hung up the phone, a police officer happened along.

"Would you know of any place in town I could stay?" Brook asked the officer. The officer took him to the city manager, who gave him a tour of city hall, and told him to bed down there and help himself to food in the kitchen. He also had a friendly chat with Bradshaw's pastor and two deacons.

"I call it spontaneity," he said. "I had a wonderful night's sleep."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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