It was 3:30 a.m. on June 29 in Cedar Creek Park.
Wantagh cyclist Phil Kingsbury had ridden the .94-mile trail around the Seaford park more than 180 times over the course of almost nine hours. He continued to pedal under the light of a full moon and streetlamps, having reached the point, he explained, when his mind works against his body.
“Anyone that’s done a marathon has probably hit a wall and knows that feeling,” said the 65-year-old Kingsbury. And, like a marathoner, he added, when he pushes past the wall, “All of a sudden, I feel like I could ride forever.”
This was Kingsbury’s fifth consecutive year attempting to ride 400 miles over a 24-hour period in Seaford. Besides being drawn to the challenge — the long-distance cyclist once rode from South Carolina to Long Island on a whim — he does the marathon ride to raise money for the Miles for Matt Foundation, which promotes physical activity and provides sports equipment and services like soccer clinics to those who can’t afford them.
Jim and Lynn Scarpati established the foundation in the memory of their son Matt, who died on July 20, 2009. He had stopped to fix a flat tire on the Jones Beach bikeway, and a drunken motorcyclist veered off the northbound Wantagh State Parkway and struck him, killing the Dix Hills 19-year-old instantly.
Every year, on the anniversary of Scarpati’s death, Kingsbury ventures out to the spot where he died. Today there is a guardrail, or in this case a guiderail, there, which the Scarpati family advocated for to prevent more fatal accidents. As he choked back tears before starting the ride, Kingsbury said that although he did not know Matt, his death still had a profound impact on Kingsbury’s life, and his love of cycling.
“When I sit there and think about it, I put myself in his place,” he explained. “Nineteen years old — gone. And I’m 65 and haven’t had anything remotely close to that happen to me. And because his parents built the guardrail, there’s an almost 100 percent chance that it’s something I’ll never experience.”
The marathon that Kingsbury rides is nothing like a traditional bike race. There are no spectators, no wire-to-wire coverage, no pre- or post-race ceremonies. Just a retired sheet metal worker, his bike and anyone who wants to ride alongside him. He raises money through a handful of commercial sponsorships and on a crowd-funding website, crowdrise.com.
His supporters include Tom Tavolario, of Bellmore, who started riding with Kingsbury at around 1 a.m. last Friday. Tavolario, a New York City transit worker, joked that keeping Kingsbury motivated through the night was his midnight shift, because he wanted to do anything he could to contribute to the Miles for Matt cause.
“You’d think that me being out of bed at this time would be a sacrifice?” Tavolario said. “I have nothing to complain about. He’s out here for 24 hours, riding for 400 miles in support of Matt.”
Rather than a full-fledged pit crew to supply Kingsbury with food and drink and repair his bike, there is Bellmore resident Andrew Hager, Kingsbury’s close friend. Hager explained that the marathon began five years ago, as Kingsbury tried to think of ways to fund repairs to a statue of Scarpati at Cedar Creek Park.
“If he says he is going to do something, he does it,” Hager said of Kingsbury. “He’s one of those guys that you don’t come across too often.”
Kingsbury was still riding as dawn spread over the park. “I love when I ride through the darkness,” he had said beforehand. “When I start to see the glow in the east, I know that I made it through the night. Even though I still have another 50 percent of the ride to go, I made it through the darkness.”
He pedaled to the accompaniment of seagulls and other wildlife waking up for the new day, and continued to ride on for Matt Scarpati. He planned to finish 400 miles, but fell slightly short — riding 20 hours, 29 minutes for a total of 308 miles — doing his part for Miles for Matt.