Despite the loss of its founder, the Steeple Chase bike tour continues – Hartford Courant

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MANSFIELD – – On August 20, Faith Austin’s food bars will be waiting for hungry cyclists at one of the rest areas along the Steeple Chase bike tour in Mansfield.

Some of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and his daughter-in-law Laura will ensure the stop. The arrows for the 20, 30 and 62 mile bike paths will be painted on the road, just like Faith’s husband Ed had them.

The Steeple Chase is one of the main fundraisers for the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM), a local association of churches and synagogues that Ed Austin co-founded in 1984 to help those in need. Ed and Faith loved to ride bikes, and in 1991 the idea of ​​the Steeplechase was born.

Faith died in 2020; Ed, who was 87, died in June. But the Steeplechase, which also benefits the No-Freeze Shelter and Perception programs at Willimantic, lives on thanks to Ed and Faith’s children, grandchildren and the many volunteers Ed has recruited to help with the event.

“We figured that in his lifetime he raised $1 million for charity,” said his son Warren, who will drive the “slumped cart” to help cyclists on the 50-mile course.

Another son, Dan Austin, also helped with fundraising for years. His wife, Kerry Landeck, has been attending the event since 2007.

“He was always surprised to see the community come together,” Landeck said. “He was truly amazed and humbled by the generosity of the people around him.”

Last year, the event raised $136,500, including matching funds from the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation. It’s called the Steeplechase because the runners go from church to church on the different routes, where there are rest areas with food and water.

Ron Manizza owned a bike shop in Willimantic in the early 90s when he was approached to help with the event. He jokingly told organizers to call it “the Steeplechase” and the name stuck.

Ed Austin, he said, “was at the heart of it all. It was all about the fact that Ed was going to be there and do this and that and paint arrows on the roads…he was just very dedicated to the event.

“He coordinated our rest areas and our sagging carts and all the components that make a ride like this come together. He contacted all the towns, obtained permission to drive on their roads. He was a fabulous guy; he wore a ton of hats and worked a lot.

“It’s a tough loss, but we all tried to take a bit more of what Ed has done over the last two years, to take some of the pressure off him.”

Warren said his dad was still painting arrows on the roads in the early 80s. That was when the tour had a 100 mile option with a rest stop, so there were plenty of arrows to paint.

“He had me drive the van and he had a little box where he kept all the paints and stencils,” Warren said. “He would run from the back of the van to the intersection, put the stencil down, spray it, then run to the van and say, ‘OK, move on’.”

Faith Austin had her own resting place – in the cow pasture at a friend’s house on Bassetts Bridge Road in Mansfield, through which all routes passed. She has made her own energy bars for cyclists and the recipe has been passed down to her family, who ensure they are always cooked for Steeplechase Day.

Ed and their friend David Stevens decided to build a shelter in the pasture for Faith and the cyclists. they called it “The Holy Cow” shelter and it’s the only non-church on the tour. These days, Warren’s wife, Laura, holds the sacred cow.

“[Ed was] a driving figure in keeping this event going, among other things he has done for the community,” said WAIM Director Victoria Nimirowski. “He loved WAIM. We used to call him ‘Mr. WAIM.’

“His whole motivation was that he loved seeing people of different faiths and backgrounds come together and work together towards an end. It was a great loss, but he certainly left us a legacy to carry on. It was just a remarkable man.

The ride is a tradition for many cyclists in northeast Connecticut. In 2020, many rode the routes (which had no rest stops except for the Holy Cow Shelter) or took virtual rides to raise funds when the event had to scale down due of the pandemic.

So there was no doubt that this would continue even after Ed and Faith left.

“He made sure the Steeple Chase was self-sufficient,” Landeck said. “He brought together the right people. I can’t imagine he doesn’t exist just because he isn’t there.

For more information on the Steeple Chase Bike Tour, go to https://steeplechasebiketour.org/.

Lori Riley can be reached at [email protected]

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