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Published: 6/13/2009

3 pastors pedaling to fight hunger

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Three ministers are about a third of the way toward their goal of riding 13,000 miles on a bicycle in 100 days, seeking to raise $5 million for hunger relief - one dollar for each pedal stroke.

The star of the show is not the three ministers, however, but their one-of-a-kind bamboo triplet bike.

"If you get three 60-year-old geezers on three bikes, who cares? But you get three guys and you put them in line on one bamboo bike and people become very interested," said the Rev. Reinold "Ron" Schlak, Jr. "It's all about the bike, not the guys riding it."

The trio - Mr. Schlak, the Rev. Fred Soltow, Jr., and the Rev. David Twedt - are all friends, ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and pastors of churches in West Virginia.

The "Tour de Revs," as they call it, is scheduled to stop in Findlay on Friday, Bowling Green on June 20, and Toledo on June 21.

After beginning their trek on May 14 in Chicago, the national headquarters of the ELCA, the three ministers have been sticking closely to the schedule. They plan to visit every Lutheran synod in the country before winding up at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis on Aug. 21.

Having a van follow them makes it easy to stay on pace, Mr. Schlak said.

"If the weather's bad or if we're behind schedule, we throw the bike in the trailer and get into the van," he said from a stop in northern New Jersey. "On the one hand you feel like you're cheating, but on the other hand we've got a lot of places to visit and a lot of people counting on us to be there on time."

Their primary goal is to help alleviate hunger in the United States and globally.

"One of the things that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has one of the best ratings for response and recover is its hunger and wellness programs," Mr. Schlak said. "But basically, nobody knows about it. They do such excellent work here and globally. As pastors, we are proud of them and we want to bring awareness to the great things the ELCA does."

Another goal is to motivate ministers to take better care of themselves, said Mr. Soltow, a triathlete who has run a number of marathons.

"The clergy has one of the highest ratings of being unhealthy, so we want to encourage our colleagues in the ministry to do something to improve their health and wellness," he said.

Mr. Schlak said he is worried about the health of some of his friends in the ministry.

"Some of the pastors whom I'm very close to are at the age in life where they can have heart problems," he said. "They not only carry their own stress, but they carry the stress of people in their own congregations. We're trying to present a healthy lifestyle."

The idea for the Tour de Revs first popped up in 2000, Mr. Schlak said, but it took time to organize, synchronize their schedules, and train. "The last two years we've been in high gear," he said.

The trio's three-person bamboo bicycle was custom-made by the California-based Calfee Design company. They chose bamboo because it is a "readily available, self-generating, renewable resource" and has qualities that make for a good bike, Mr. Schlak said.

The triplet's cost of around $10,000 was covered by a grant, he said.

"It is a durable bike. We just took it out for a ride and did about 10 miles and it's as tight as the day we got it," Mr. Schlak said.

The ministers have had the bike up to 48.8 mph, Mr. Soltow said, and it "really feels good when it's going fast."

Their Toledo stop will be at Faith Lutheran Church, 2440 South Ave., on June 21. Helping out will be members of Salem Lutheran and Holy Trinity Lutheran.

"It's such a unique way to bring awareness to world hunger, we wanted to make sure we're a part of it," said the Rev. Cindy Getzinger of Faith Lutheran.

Information, including schedules, photos, videos, and riders' blogs, is available online at tourderevs.org. Information on the Toledo stop is available from Holy Trinity Lutheran, 419-382-2392.

- David Yonke



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