FORT KENT, Maine — James Grandmaison came late to the sport of cycling, but he tackled it with the same gusto and enthusiasm he gave to numerous community and civic activities around the St. John River Valley.
Last fall, Grandmaison, 56, the longtime SAD 27 chief financial officer, died suddenly while on the bicycling trip of his dreams in Italy, and this weekend nearly 50 of his friends and fellow cyclists will honor his memory and dedication as they ride in the annual Maine Lung Association Trek Across Maine.
The three-day, 180-mile event June 19-21 takes cyclists from Sunday River in western Maine to Belfast on the coast.
Thanks to the efforts of Team Jimmy G and a second County team — Team Mojo out of Presque Isle — more than $50,000 was raised locally for the Lung Association.
“This would have been Jim’s fourth year riding the Trek,” Matt Michaud, captain of Team Jimmy G, said. “He was so well-respected in the community and an avid cyclist, what better way to pay tribute to him and raise money for a great cause at the same time.”
This year the Trek Across Maine celebrates its 25th anniversary, and Alan Michaud of St. Agatha, who has ridden in it 11 of those years, is credited for getting Grandmaison into cycling.
“We were in spin class together a few years back,” Alan Michaud said. “I told him, ‘Jim, you have got to get on a bike.’”
That was all he needed to hear, according to Grandmaison’s wife, Margaret.
“Bicycling was another one of his whims,” she recalled. “He just loved coming home from work and taking off for a ride.”
Short rides around town grew quickly into longer loops, and soon Grandmaison was riding in local charity events of up to 100 miles.
“I remember when we were doing the Tour de la Vallee century [a bicycle ride for cancer support], and we were biking into a huge headwind and I said it was terrible,” Alan Michaud said. “Jim just looked at me and said he was remembering what cancer victims go through and a head wind was nothing compared to that.”
That positive attitude, said fellow cyclist Jeff Dubis, is what made Grandmaison so popular on a bike ride.
“You always knew when Jim was on a ride,” Dubis said. “You could hear him singing or laughing the whole time.”
Memories like those inspired Matt Michaud to design the team jersey which features the rolling hills of the St. John Valley, musical notes and the colors of the Italian flag.
“Jim would be so touched by all this,” Margaret Grandmaison said as she watched members of the team gear up for a training ride.
In fact, Grandmaison had preregistered for this year’s event immediately after the 2008 Trek, and Margaret Grandmaison plans to be at the finish to congratulate the team members.
Joining Team Jimmy G as they begin their ride to the coast Friday morning are the 50 members and support crew from Team Mojo, which is making its second Trek appearance.
“After our experience last year, the word spread pretty fast on how much fun we had,” said Melanie Stewart, team captain and owner of Mojo Sports in Presque Isle. “It’s really taken on a life of its own.”
In addition to raising money for the Lung Association, Stewart said, the event promotes a healthful activity and lifestyle.
“We are seeing new riders out on the road as soon as they can brave the elements in the spring,” she said. Completing the 180 miles is a challenge, Stewart, an avid cyclist and time trialist, said. “To see someone try this for the first time is wonderful, and to see them cross the finish in Belfast is priceless.”
Penny McHatten, a member of Team Mojo, is participating in her 12th Trek and is not surprised by the outpouring of support it generates on the local level.
“Aroostook County is truly a special place,” she said. “The people are generous and giving, [and] it’s really like a small family in a big space.”
For McHatten, the Trek is also personal. She lost her father and father-in-law to lung cancer.
“I do this in tribute to them,” she said.