A popular annual tradition, in remembrance of those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, will ride through Leesburg for the last time this August.
The America’s 9/11 Ride annually draws hundreds, and sometimes more than 1,000 motorcycle riders, in a route that passes through the three sites befallen by terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 – the Pentagon in Washington, DC, the World Trade Center in New York City, and Somerset, PA, where Flight 93 crashed. The ride has passed through Leesburg since 2005 and draws throngs of spectators out onto King Street, many waving American flags, patriotic signs and shouting well wishes and words of appreciation to those riding through town. For many residents, and ride participants, the annual pass through Leesburg has become a highlight.
Ride organizer Ted Sjurseth, a Lucketts resident, gets choked up reflecting on the outpouring of support he and others have received from Leesburg residents and visitors on the ride’s annual trek through town. Most notably in 2011, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Virginia State Police had advised against allowing the ride to pass through downtown Leesburg, instead suggesting the route be changed to the Leesburg Bypass, owing to the large turnout of bikers expected. But the Leesburg Town Council, amidst pressure from residents and race supporters to keep the route as it was, held firm, allowing the route to stay on King Street. And their support was vindicated when the long delays and traffic impacts the state police predicted did not come to fruition, as Sjurseth had insisted it wouldn’t.
While support from Leesburg for the race has not waned, the logistics of organizing the annual ride has gotten more complicated and costs have risen, Sjurseth said. This year alone, given that it is the ride’s last and participation is again expected to be high, Sjurseth estimates that toll costs for riders will be around $60,000. When he started this ride two months after the 2001 terrorist attacks, it was just Sjurseth and his wife, two people who loved to ride and wanted to do something in remembrance of the fallen, organizing the endeavor. Two years later, Sjurseth started a 501(c)(3) foundation, America’s 911 Foundation, Inc., to support first responders and their families. Since its inception, more than $300,000 in college scholarships have been given away to children of first responders and 14 new police Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been donated to participating police departments.
Sjurseth said he hopes the foundation can continue without the annual ride, and still provide the college scholarships it has over the years. But as he and his wife have moved onto a different stage of life, now being grandparents, they are hoping to refocus all on the time and energy it takes in planning the annual ride on their own family.
Already 1,400 riders have signed up to participate in this year’s ride, which will pass through Leesburg on Friday, Aug. 19, at around 2 p.m., Sjurseth estimates. He is asking town and county residents to flank the streets for a final time, to give riders one last memorable send-off.
“I want Leesburg to turn up like never before,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s curb to curb people so these [riders] get a thank you, a ‘we remember you.’”