Cleveland cyclists Bike to Build for Habitat home

photo Jeff's Hope - a riding team dedicated to the memory of Jeff Miller, a cyclist who lost his battle against cancer last year - begins a 20k ride for Cleveland's Habitat for Humanity Bike to Build on Saturday. For the second year in a row, the group earned the distinction as the largest team fundraiser for the event.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - More than 300 bicyclists pedaled down scenic country roads Saturday morning as part of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland's fourth annual Bike to Build.

The event, which started and ended at Bradley Central High School, included a choice of 20k, 50k or 100k routes and drew riders from every state in the South and one from as far away as Austria, said officials.

The 2013 Bike to Build also brought in about $60,000 in donations, said Tammy Johnson, resource development director for the organization.

Those funds will go toward a new home in Victory Cove, Habitat's newest community in Cleveland, which is located near South Lee Highway, Johnson said. The house will be completed this spring and dedicated June 27.

Mary Gibson, the home's owner, said she is ready to move in and has been involved in its progress since the day Habitat officials showed her the empty lot.

Gibson, a single mother who cares for a son with cerebral palsy, said Habitat's program was the only way she could achieve her dream of owning a home. Providing her son with a home means he'll be taken care of after she is gone, she said.

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"It gives me peace of mind," said Gibson, "He will always have a home and be safe."

Habitat also has given her an extended family, said Gibson, who has formed bonds with the organization's officials, volunteers and fellow program participants.

To qualify for the zero-percent mortgage offered by Habitat, Gibson had to put in at least 300 hours of "sweat equity," volunteering in various aspects of the nonprofit's operations, said Johnson. She also had to take classes on personal finances and home ownership.

Gibson knows her neighbors and is truly invested in her community, Johnson said.

"You don't just get a house, you get a family," said Brian Welch, one of the more than 200 volunteers who came out to support the Bike to Build cyclists. "That's huge."

Johnson described Welch as one of the event's biggest supporters, encouraging participation through phone calls, social media and hands-on help.

Welch, an avid cyclist whose son suffers from a long-standing illness, said he sees Bike to Build as a way for him to give back to the community.

"So many people showed compassion for my family, I felt compelled to return it somehow," said Welch.

"Habitat represents all that's good as far as a charity," said Eddie Tripplet, whose Toyota dealership serves as a key supporter for the cycling event. "I don't know of a more worthy cause."

As for the event's ability to bring in riders from across the country and beyond, Welch said he is not surprised.

"It's the biggest I've seen," said Welch.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at [email protected]