BELFAST, Maine — Each of the 1,914 riders in the American Lung Association of Maine’s Trek Across Maine carries his or her own reason for participating.
Some pedal 180 miles across the state for the exercise. Others do it to raise money for the lung association — which this year collected some $1.8 million in the trek. Still others do it in honor of a loved one stricken by asthma, COPD, emphysema or some other ailment of the lungs.
Martha Eastman of Bangor said she did it to honor the lung association’s legacy of promoting public heath, which can be traced back more than 100 years. Eastman, who is a nurse practitioner and owner of Pro-Elder Consulting in Bangor, ought to know. After all, tracking the association’s history was part of her 2006 doctor dissertation, titled “All for Health for All, The Local Dynamics of Rural Public Health in Maine, 1885-1950.”
“I truly love the lung association for what they’ve done over the years,” she said. The history of the provenance can be traced back through organizations such as the Maine Tuberculosis Association, the Maine Public Health Association and in the 1800s, the Anti-Tuberculosis League. With programs ranging from teaching children how to avoid tuberculosis to honoring any person who managed to live to age 75, the lung association and its predecessors have played a vital role in Mainers’ well-being, said Eastman.
“Recently they’ve helped a lot of people stop smoking and now they’re lobbying in favor of the Clean Air Act,” she said, referring to proposals under debate in Congress which would weaken the decades-old act, particularly provisions that require businesses to limit their emissions or pay for carbon credits.
Ed Miller, CEO of the American Lung Association of Maine, said the trek has traditionally had many roles aside from raising money.
“This isn’t just a ride. It’s also about the mission of the organization,” he said. This year, trekkers were given the opportunity to mail postcards to U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, urging them to defend the Clean Air Act. Miller said the effort resulted in several hundred postcards ready to mail.
“The issue of having ozone air days is very persuasive for these people,” said Miller of the riders. He said the issue resonates with Mainers because any pollution in the air here is coming from other places, not to mention the fact that legendary Maine politicos Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell had heavy influence on the act’s birth and then major changes, respectively.
Miller said the association is still collecting postcards, which he said will be sent en masse sometime this summer.
For Eric Chase of Freeport, participating in the trek has meant different things to him during his six years of participation. As part of a team from Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pubs, Chase’s involvement began as a chance to exercise and support a worthy cause. When his mother, Lynn Chase, died last year of emphysema, the ride took on extra meaning.
“I’ll be doing this every year for as long as my body keeps holding up,” he said.
This year, to add to the challenge, Chase and teammate Bethany Dumas started a day early, riding from Freeport to Sunday River before joining the rest of the trekkers. It added 80 miles of pedaling.
“I’ll never do that again,” he said. “The hills were very difficult.”
Cory and Jessica Verrill of Stetson were part of a team from from Cianbro Corp. in Pittsfield. Cory rode in the trek while Jessica spent her third consecutive year as one of 650 volunteers it takes to stage the event. She said her title was Finish Line Roamer, but Cory said he’s intent on changing her role.
“Someday she’ll ride, too,” he said.
“Ha!” said Jessica. “I don’t think so. Let’s just say I really like volunteering, but he keeps modifying my bike to make it more comfortable.”