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Sanibel firefighter participates in Brotherhood Ride

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Nov 10, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Sanibel Fire and Rescue District engineer-paramedic Mike Martin, left, with Sanibel Police Chief William Dalton, Allison Schulze — daughter of Sgt. Anthony Neri, who passed away in 2019 — and Officer Chad Maik.

A member of the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District recently took part in a statewide event to honor 25 fallen heroes from Florida who died in the line of duty in 2019, including one of the island’s own.

Engineer-paramedic Mike Martin was one of 32 cyclists in the 2020 Brotherhood Ride, which took place on Oct. 1-7 and covered 556 miles between Fort Myers and Live Oak. A first-time participant, he explained that participation is limited to help keep costs down, so there is a waiting list to take part.

“I’ve been riding recreationally since 2012, so I knew about the Brotherhood Ride,” Martin said, adding that the organization hosts civilian rides for interested supporters, which he did a few times.

“This year was significant because of the passing of Sanibel police Sgt. Anthony Neri. He was one of the heroes we were honoring,” he said. “Being in emergency services myself, it’s important to me.”

With this year’s ride starting out in Fort Myers, the group headed to Arcadia for the first leg of the journey. Over the course of the week, they averaged about 70 miles per day, hitting 90 on some days.

PHOTO PROVIDED Send-off ceremony on Oct. 1 in Fort Myers for the 2020 Brotherhood Ride.

“We kind of zig-zagged our way up the state,” Martin said.

The group made stops along the way at departments that had lost a hero in the prior year.

“It was really a special thing,” he said, explaining that there were ceremonies and stories shared. “You get to meet the people that you’re supporting and let them know their loved one is not forgotten.”

“Life does go on and people do forget over time, so we’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s the goal,” Martin added of remembering the fallen. “I know the families appreciate it.”

He noted that hearing the stories struck close to home.

PHOTO PROVIDED Riders traveling between Gainesville and Jacksonville. Held from Oct. 1-7, the 2020 Brotherhood Ride covered over 500 miles from Fort Myers to Live Oak. This year's event was dedicated to 25 fallen heroes from Florida who died in the line of duty in 2019.

“You realize that could have easily been any one of us. The families are like our own back home,” Martin said. “Some of the stories are incredible. It’s always the good people you hear about.”

“You just realize what the families have lost,” he added.

An all-volunteer staff also helps to keep event costs to a minimum, and the Florida Elks Lodges provide meals and a place for the group to sleep overnight, in addition to making donations.

“They really are a big supporter of the ride,” Martin said of the Elks, adding that they provided breakfast and dinner before sending the group on its way. “It’s really great. Everybody pitches in.”

As for the journey itself, it went smoothly, with few mechanical incidents.

PHOTO PROVIDED A stop at the Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala offered participants an opportunity to talk to the students about brotherhood.

“I’ve never ridden that far in a week, or even a month, in my life,” he said.

“People were out on the side of the road as we went by. It was really nice to see,” Martin added. “With the support we got and meeting the people and hearing the stories, the ride is almost the easier part.”

As part of the event, the participants help fundraise leading up to the ride.

“We want to bring awareness and get some money in the hands of the families and help them with expenses,” he said, noting that the Brotherhood Ride has raised over $500,000 for families.

Martin’s goal was to raise $2,000 — and he raised $2,050.

PHOTO PROVIDED Sanibel Fire and Rescue District engineer-paramedic Mike Martin was one of 32 participants in the 2020 Brotherhood Ride, which took place from Oct. 1-7 from Fort Myers to Live Oak.

“The donations were overwhelming,” he said. “It’s really nice to see the support from the public.”

Asked if he would participate again, the answer was yes.

“It was memorable, it was emotional, it was enjoyable,” Martin said. “I was honored to be able to participate.”

The Brotherhood Ride started in 2007 in the wake of a fire that took the lives of nine Charleston, South Carolina, firefighters. Founder Jeff Morse wanted to do something to remember them, and the ride was born. In 2008, they rode nine days from Fort Myers to Charleston, dedicating one day to each hero lost.

For more information on the event, visit www.brotherhoodride.com.