More than 20 years ago, an athletic priest from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton who did international mission work was given a challenge by his secretary’s husband.
“Why don’t you also do something to support a local charity?” Tom Csapo asked Rick Tofani at the time. “Why don’t you do the Anchor House ride?”
Tofani stepped up to the challenge and signed up for the ride, joining a group Csapo belonged to called Team Silly. The members of Team Silly wore purple, believed in not taking themselves too seriously when riding, and liked to play practical jokes on the other riders.
“He was a captive audience. He became very interested in the whole premise of the Anchor House ride, and couldn’t wait to join the ride,” Csapo said. “He became involved from the get go. He did more than 2,000 miles of training every year, and never did he have any thoughts of missing the ride.”
Tofani became one of Anchor House’s biggest supporters, and participated in the ride for 21 years. The priest died suddenly last fall at the age of 61 while he was on vacation in Florida.
The 183 cyclists and 31 support crew members on the 36th annual Ride for Runaways remembered Tofani and other Anchor House veterans Wednesday by wearing purple and sharing photos and stories.
“We all truly miss that guy. He is missed by so many people,” Csapo said of Tofani. “As we ate together today, there was room for one more at the table. Rick should have been there with us.”
Tofani was remembered fondly for his gentleness, his humility and his nice smile. When individual cyclists learned of bad news such as the death of a parent back home, and when a cyclist was killed on the Ride for Runaways, Tofani was there with words of comfort and compassion.
“I keep coming back, No. 1 one because of the cause, and No. 2, because of the people,” Tofani said in a 2012 interview when he completed his 20th Ride for Runaways. “What is remarkable to me every year I come on ride is seeing all these people from various backgrounds who are willing to give up a week of their time for a cause like this.
“It’s so inspiring to see these people committed to this common cause. Very few things in life inspire me more than that, other than my faith,” he said. “To me this is faith in action of a different kind. I’m not talking about Christianity or Catholicism. I’m talking about faith in the human spirit, and what we can accomplish if we put our minds, bodies, souls and hearts together.”
The cyclists also remembered Princeton resident Doug McCune, who died on the last day of the Anchor House ride in 2011 after he collided with a car. McCune, a 16-year veteran of the Ride for Runaways, was a top fundraiser for Anchor House. A scientist who worked at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, he developed computer coding and software for fusion experiments.
Two of the Anchor House cyclists, Amy Eckel of Pennington and Don Reichman of Hopewell, wore Battle Against Hunger jerseys Wednesday in memory of Chuck Inman, the founder of the ride that raises money for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, the Rescue Mission, and the Crisis Ministry. Inman, a Vietnam veteran who owned his own business, participated in the 2005 Ride for Runaways and sought advice from Anchor House organizers when he started his own ride.
Inman was killed in March and his wife Pam Inman was seriously injured when their car was hit by a truck on Route 1 in West Windsor that was driven by a drunk driver. Inman’s interment at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors took place Wednesday. His memorial service will be held this Saturday, July 19, at 1 a.m. at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton.
The Anchor House cyclists pedaled 57.6 miles from Hagerstown. Md. to Westminster. Md. Wednesday, climbing more than 3,230 feet. The route included a 5.1-mile early in the day, but the cyclists were rewarded with a downhill ride for several miles and views of vineyards and farms.
Steve Czelusniak of Ewing, a 22-year ride veteran, said it was one of the top five days he has ever seen on an Anchor House trip.
“It was the trifecta,” he said. “Beautiful scenery, nice roads, and wonderful weather.”
Thursday the cyclists will bike 66.2 miles from Westminster, Md. to Lancaster, Pa. The rural route includes lots of short but steep climbs.
Reporter Krystal Knapp is a cyclist in the 36th annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways. For more information about Anchor House or to make a donation, visit www.anchorhouseride.org, where you can also make online donations in a cyclist’s name. Donations can also be sent to the Anchor House Foundation, P.O. Box 2357, Trenton, NJ 08607-2357.