Rapturous reception marks end of epic trans-US cycle

June 20, 2016

Cycling superhero Darren Rowland and his intrepid sidekick Jamie Malone received a rapturous welcome in Woodlawn, New York on Saturday as they crossed the finish line of an epic 4,000 mile coast to coast cycle in aid of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust (KBRT).

The amazing 78 day journey finished on Oneida Avenue in Woodlawn where supporters and well wishers had turned out in their droves to give a rousing Irish reception to the dynamic duo.

Culloville man Darren set off on his two-wheeled trip from San Francisco to New York on 3rd April to raise funds for and awareness of the Newry based repatriation charity KBRT.  For more than 3,000 miles Darren cycled solo through intense heat, storms, deserted countryside and major cities, meeting a host of colourful characters along the way and being treated to the best of American and Irish hospitality, whilst all the time raising the profile of the Newry based charity.

Darren gained some much welcome company when pal Jamie joined him for the last 800 miles of the monumental cycle and the pair couldn’t have been happier to cross the finish line together on Saturday, marking the end of what has been an incredible journey for both of them.

With each new city or state along the way, it seemed another fundraiser was organised in aid of KBRT and even on the final leg of this extraordinary trip that fundraising momentum continued with the pair hosted in New Jersey for yet another KBRT fundraiser and their arrival in New York celebrated with a fundraiser in Bar 43 in Queens.

Poignantly the cycling odyssey ended just two days after the third anniversary of Kevin Bell’s death with celebrations and a fundraiser taking place later that night in the Rambling House Bar in Woodlawn –  a regular haunt of Kevin and his friends.  The staff, owners and patrons of the bar were heavily involved in assisting the Bell family and Kevin’s friends in the aftermath of his tragic death in a hit and run accident which took place near the Bronx bar in June 2013.

Speaking to The Examiner ahead of the official end of the Two Wheels To New York cycle, Kevin’s father and founder of the KBRT, Colin Bell, described Darren as an “amazing young man.”

“For a guy who had never ridden a bike before to take on a challenge like this is incredible,” said Colin.

“The amount of awareness and funds he has raised is fantastic! He’s just an exceptional young man and fair play to Jamie too for joining him for the last 800 miles, an amazing feat for both of them.

“It’s such a fantastic achievement apart from anything else,” added Colin.

“Even if he wasn’t doing it for the KBRT, it is an amazing thing to be able to say that you cycled from the west coast to the east coast of America.”

Colin paid tribute to Darren’s humility, revealing that the Culloville man had played down his accomplishment describing it as “just pedalling a bike.”

“He really deserves all the recognition.  He is so humble and doesn’t realise the impact his challenge has had on the trust’s profile,” he said.

“In New York or in areas where we have repatriated people from, people are aware of KBRT’s work but apart from that no-one else had heard of us so Darren’s journey has raised that awareness right across America.”

An example of that increased awareness happened when Paddy Rooney’s pub in Philadelphia hosted a “Beef and Beer” night fundraiser for the KBRT after learning about the invaluable service it provides. The event raised a phenomenal $9000 for the trust as well as significantly raising the profile of KBRT in the area, where many people were completely unaware of its work.  Colin revealed that Paddy Rooney, the Castlewellan born owner of the bar, had left in the middle of the fundraising event which took place on Sunday 12th June and had arrived with Colin on Wednesday “with a lot of money for the trust.”

The KBRT has repatriated 185 people since it was set up in the aftermath of Kevin’s death in June 2013, after Kevin’s friends in Newry and all over the world raised a staggering £150,000 in his honour.

“This time three years ago we were going along like every other family, with normal family worries.  Now it’s a whole new aspect and we have a whole new outlook on life,” said Colin who modestly insists the hard work of the trust is done by the families who fundraise.

“The trust is all about families helping families.  We might be the figureheads for it but there are a lot of families doing a lot of work and a lot of good people out there who keep supporting us. It has taken on a life of its own, with every family we help another strand of continuous fundraising develops so that more families can be helped in the future.

“Darren’s incredible journey is an example of the lengths people will go to in aid of the KBRT and we are just totally amazed at what he has achieved.  We are forever grateful for what he has done to raise awareness of KBRT across America.”