Riding on the wave of American Pride

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 21, 2001

Features Editor

Buddy Winnett had a couple of very good reasons for huffing and puffing and pedaling

more than 1,000 miles over the hills and through the valleys of middle America.

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First, he wanted to help raise funds to make his church, Christ Episcopal, in Waukegan, Ill. handicapped accessible.

"We are an old church and we don’t have a large congregation," Winnett said as he paused for a breather along Highway 231 near Brundidge. "Those of us who used to climb the steps briskly are doing so more slowly and much more cautiously these days. Members of our congregation pledged so much per mile for my journey, with all of the donations to be used to make the church handicapped accessible."

Secondly, although Winnett doesn’t consider himself handicapped, he does suffer from macular degeneration and is legally blind.

"I thought this might be the last opportunity I have to see the beauty of our country," he said. "I’ve traveled all over by car, but I’ve never really seen the country.Two years from now, I probably won’t be able to see at all. This is my opportunity to take it all in."

A journey that Winnett thought would be a visual and spiritual experience is that and much more.

He has been caught up in a wave of patriotism that is sweeping the country after terrorists attacked America Sept. 11.

Winnett was not an experienced cyclist when he embarked on the ride for Christ Episcopal Church. He was just a man on a mission.

He had a sleeping pad and the other necessities for a bicycle journey, but he had given little thought to the heat and humidity that often accompanies Indian Summer south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

"It was sweltering and sweat was dripping down my face and in my eyes," Winnett said. "I stopped to get something to catch the sweat and all the store didn’t have anything I could use except bandannas. And, I had two choices, one with a skull and crossbones and one with stars-and stripes. I chose the stars and stripes."

As the 59-year-old cyclist pedaled along with his red-white-and-blue bandanna fluttering in the wind, he was treated rudely by many motorist. At times he thought, "Why am I subjecting myself to this."

Winnett’s journey began on Sept. 5 and, after six days into the ride, he checked into a motel for a shower and a soft pillow.

When he went to check out the next morning, he found the employees glued to the television and he, too, watched in horror as terrorists slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

"For that moment on, America changed," Winnett said. "I noticed it immediately. The rudeness toward me stopped."

Winnett had his stars-and stripes do-rag, but he wanted to join his fellow Americans in flying a flag.

"No where could I find an American flag," he said. "Everybody had sold out."

Winnett would have to be content with the tail of his red-white-and-blue fluttering from beneath his cycle helmet.

But, then he got lucky. On the roadside, he spotted an American flag.

"I guess, someone had been flying it from their antenna and it snapped off," he said. "The flag was still taped to part of the antenna. I picked it up and attached it to my bicycle and I felt

a lot of pride in flying the American flag as I went along."

Winnett was saluted by honking horns and given thumbs-up by motorists in a show of national pride and unity. Those gestures were far different from the ones he had gotten earlier in his journey.

"Americans changed," he said. "It’s sad that it took such a tragedy to bring us together. I just hope that it will last. If it doesn’t, then these lives were lost in vain."

On his journey, Buddy Winnett is seeing America as he has never seen it before and he is seeing Americans as they have never been before.

He learned that his church has responded to the attack on America by sending all of the money they had available to the victims’ families and the rescue, recovery and clean up efforts in New York and Washington. The only money available to make his church handicapped accessible will be that which he raises by his ride.

"There is a much greater need and our church responded," he

said. "We know what our priorities are. We are our brother’s keeper."

Winnett’s life has been spent in the fast lane. He was a jockey for many years and raised and trained thoroughbred racehorses. And, it was a good ride.

However, the best ride of his life has been his slow journey across America which was made easier because he rode the wave of American patriotism.