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Cycling for charity
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As a 66-year-old diabetic retiree, Wally Willig might not fit the usual image of someone about to take on a cross-continent adventure, but come Sept. 11, he will set out from San Diego on his bicycle, and pedal his way across the United States, all the way to Tybee Island.

Willig’s 9-11 start date is symbolic, because the purpose of his trip is to raise money for the families of fallen heroes.

The fund-raising event, dubbed, “From Sea To Shining Sea,” will benefit the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire.

The club gives financial aid to the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters who die or are injured in the line of duty.

From Sept. 11 to Oct. 31, Wally Willig is bicycling across the continent — from sea to shining sea — to raise funds from corporations, organizations and individuals.

Willig will be traveling 50 days for 3,200 miles over terrain ranging from mountain passes more than 8,000 feet high to desert areas below sea level.

One can only imagine the weather, motels, and restaurants he'll encounter along the way.

When he decided to put his pedal power to work for emergency workers, he went to Beaufort County’s Sheriff Tanner for ideas.

“In his department, two patrolmen were killed in 2001,” Willig said. “They were the recipients of benefits from the 200 Club. So when I contacted him, he suggested that I get in touch with the 200 Club.”

Benefits from the 200 Club go to the families of police forces and fire crews in a 20-county region in the Coastal Empire, including coastal Georgia as well as Beaufort and Jasper counties in South Carolina.

“I’m so pleased (to help), because I truly believe that the firemen and the policemen go out and their families don’t know if they’re going to make it home that evening.”

But Willig won’t be riding alone. Lester Miller, from Etters, Penn., a friend he hasn’t seen in 50 years, will join him.

Miller’s sister is married to Willig’s nephew, and when she heard of his plan to cross the country, she said Miller was interested in such an adventure and asked if Willig minded her putting the challenge to her brother.

“And I said ‘No, just tell him that it’s $1 a mile for the charity and he pays all of his own expenses,’” Willig said, adding that he will be paying his own expenses as well.

Another of Willig’s friends is flying in from Germany to help out with the effort.

Thomas Mattach will travel from Berlin to drive the automobile that will carry the cyclists’ supplies and spare parts.

“He got involved because the original person who was going to go had some family problems at the last minute,” Willig said.

Willig purchased a detailed route plan from a company called Adventure Cycling that has three cross-country routes. Willig’s route is dubbed the “Southern Tier.”

He will ride from San Diego to El Paso, Texas, and then over to Baton Rouge. From Louisiana, Willig and Miller will pedal to Pensacola and then across to Chattahoochee, Fla.

From Chattahoochee, the cyclists and Mattach will cross into Georgia, tracking through Valdosta, Waycross and Brunswick, then up Highway 17 to Savannah and then to Tybee Island.

“We’ve left a few days in there for hurricanes and storms because we will be right along the Gulf Coast and we need to leave some time there, in case we need to evacuate,” he said.

Because of Willig’s diabetes, his doctor started him on a diet and exercise regimen, including cycling, after he moved to Beaufort County, S.C., in 1997.

In fact, this will be the second such cross-country trip Willig has made.

“Right after 9-11, another friend of mine and I did another ride in 2002 to support the Bluffton Fire District,” he said. “We raised $100,000 in that effort.”

Willig said response to his decision to bike across the United States has ranged from

“‘You’re crazy’ to ‘Good luck’ and congratulations and everything in between.”


Those who wish may make a tax-deductible donation to the Two Hundred Club of the Coastal Empire. To make donations online:

The address to send donations is:

200 Club of the Coastal Empire

P.O. Box 2486

Savannah, GA 31402-2486