For Stephanie Dameron, an English teacher and head softball coach at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, this year’s Ride for Vocations was her third time participating in the 100-mile ride to promote vocations and support the priesthood. She was encouraged to participate by Father Larry Swink, the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata, Maryland, who knew of her background as a competitive athlete playing Division 1 softball in college at Radford University in Virginia. 

“Because of a leg injury, I couldn’t run,” Dameron said. “So I got into biking because it was low impact and for a fantastic cause… (it was) something I really couldn’t say ‘no’ to.” 

She compared the day’s ride to the spiritual life, with periods where one’s adrenaline takes over, and other times, such as between mile 40 and 50, where the riders “push through that dryness of motivation,” she said. 

“It was the best ride, but definitely one of the most difficult ones,” Dameron continued. “I feel great now, but being on the bike for five to six hours and trying to make it through with stopping and refueling, it is a draining experience, but one I would never want to give up. Being able to ride for vocations, for our priests, who are able to give us lay people the Eucharist, is an amazing thing.”

As a high school teacher, Dameron said she talks with her students about the ride, especially since some of the seminarians are alumni of their school. 

“When we have that 6 a.m. Mass (before the ride) and you know that some of the people there had to be up at 4 a.m., it’s just seeing all the seminarians and priests that are there all together as one family…” she said. “You know that people started in one place training for this ride and are now different… We’re extremely focused on the task at hand and that’s raising awareness and making us better people.” 

Dameron said many of the priests she knows have become “spiritual fathers” to her, and that this ride is just one way she could give back. 

“They’re just really encouraging us to become saints and I think that’s something at this time in the Church that we really need,” she said. 

Susan Tucker was also inspired to get involved because of the need for “so many holy priests,” she said. 

“Our pastor thought that this would be a great way to support these young men that are discerning the priesthood,” Tucker continued. “It seems like a good way to pray and sacrifice for them, because they sacrifice so much even just while they’re learning and even more as priests.” 

Tucker, along with three other participants, biked 52 miles during the Ride for Vocations.

Her involvement, she said, has allowed her to meet with several seminarians from her parish who have become priests, she said. Tucker is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata, which she has been attending since 2008. She converted to Catholicism in 2009. 

“It’s enjoyable to watch them (seminarians) grow in their faith formation and make it to ordination and become priests,” Tucker said. “We’ve been very blessed as a parish and in the Archdiocese of Washington with the guys that are going to the seminary and that are coming out as priests. They’re just on fire, zealous, and out there to save our souls.

“That’s what it all comes down to, in my opinion. They’re there for us. They love God, Mary, and they’re willing to sacrifice everything for us, so why shouldn’t we do that for them,” she said.

As a cyclist who participated in several fundraiser rides since the late 1990s,Scott Sanger, a member of St. Peter’s Parish on Capitol Hill, said in an email his first time in the Ride for Vocations this year was “truly an amazing experience unlike any I’ve ever had.”

The opening Mass, he said, was a “special memory” that he will cherish forever. 

His pastor, Father Gary Studniewski, was the main person who encouraged him to get involved, Sanger said. 

“When he concluded a Mass a couple of months ago with a warm and welcoming appeal for riders to join his team, and I knew that our Lord had blessed me with the skills and endurance to complete a 100-mile bike ride, I committed to the cause on the spot,” Sanger said. 

In his fourth year riding, Greg Basiliko, a member of Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, Maryland, continues to participate in the Ride for Vocations because of the opportunity to “give back to the priests and seminarians because they give so much of their lives,” he said. 

During training, he said, the participants receive emails in the days leading up to the ride with biographies of the seminarians, so that the riders can get to know the seminarians and can keep them in their prayer intentions. 

“I think the Church is in such a crisis for great leadership in our churches,” Basiliko said. “These inspiring priests, these guys you meet at the seminary, are full of passion for the Lord and what they’re trying to do. We need that with the state of our Church.”

The ride isn’t easy, Basiliko said.

“There’s some pain and suffering out there with the hills and the heat, but Our Lord sacrificed so much for us,” he said.

Around mile 75, the path for the ride leads up a steep hill to one of the rest spots at St. Ignatius Parish in Chapel Point. 

“It’s time to think, ‘What small sacrifice can I make for these guys in the form of prayer?’” Richard Szoch, a three-time ride participant, said. “You open your eyes and you’re already at the top… Offer it up and think of them. The strength comes out of nowhere.”

A member of Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata, Szoch rode with his wife, Janet, and his fourth son, Ben. Szoch, whose family hosts several seminarians on the night before the ride, said supporting the seminarians provides his inspiration for participating.

For St. Mary’s Ryken High School sophomore Nina Ferrero, participating in the ride with her mother Julie came from her desire to support priests in a unique way, she said. 

“As I’ve grown in my faith, I realized that without them we wouldn’t have the Eucharist,” she said. 

Riding side by side with her mother, she said, helped the two get up every hill and offer it up, Ferrero continued. She said that they have participated in the ride for three years, training and going on group rides. “It’s also a bonding experience,” she said. “It’s just really fun.”