(WASHINGTON) -- A team of 26 cyclists will ride off Thursday on a 400-mile trip to honor victims of gun violence, including the 26 people killed in a 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The volunteer cyclists are also riding in the annual event to raise awareness for common-sense gun legislation as gun control advocates face a Republican-led Congress and a president, Donald Trump, who spoke last week at the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“This movement is going to persist. We are going to continue to fight to reduce gun violence,” Monte Frank, founder of the Team 26 ride, told ABC News in an interview Wednesday. “Honestly I think we’ll be riding for a couple more years and that’s discouraging, but we’ll persist because lives are at stake.”
Frank, a lawyer who lives in Newtown, Connecticut, where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located, came up with the idea for the Team 26 ride during a sleepless night days after the school shooting.
A lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and fatally shot 20 first-grade students and six of the school’s staff members, including the principal.
“There was a period of time for about three to four weeks where if I was getting three hours of sleep that was a lot,” said Frank, who started cycling in law school. “In one of those nights I had the idea of riding to Washington.”
“I woke up the next morning and called a couple of my cycling buddies and every single one of them said, ‘I’m in. Let’s start planning this,'" Frank recalled.
For the first four years of the ride, Team 26 cyclists pedaled from Newtown to Washington, D.C., finishing with a rally at the U.S. Capitol featuring members of Congress.
This year, the cyclists are starting their ride in Washington, D.C., and will finish on Sunday with a rally in Newtown that will include some family members of Sandy Hook victims.
The change in the route reflects the uphill battle gun control advocates have faced since the 2012 shooting.
“Every year we’ve ridden to Congress to send a message that they are clearly not listening to,” Frank said. “So we decided to reverse and ride with Congress at our back and through the states and communities that are actually working hard to reduce the scourge of gun violence.”
The new route will take the cyclists through cities and states, including New Jersey and Delaware, that they applaud for taking steps to reduce gun violence. Rallies will be held along the way, a show of support that the cyclists say is very touching.
“The atmosphere is unlike any I’ve ever experienced,” said Andrea Myers, who lives in a town near Newtown and has participated in Team 26 since its founding. “We have people, when we’re stopped at a stop light in the middle of nowhere, roll down their window and say, ‘Hey I saw you guys on the news. Thank you so much for what you’re doing. It means a lot to me.’”
Myers was touched by gun violence 10 years ago when her childhood best friend was killed in an Omaha, Nebraska, shooting. She said she is among the majority in the group who have been personally touched by gun violence.
“It’s a much bigger problem than I think even people realize,” she said.
Frank, the ride’s founder, has a cousin who is a survivor of gun violence. One of Frank's children graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary School prior to the shooting.
“Newtown is a community that is forever changed,” Frank said of his hometown. “We move forward and try to do the best we can.”
Among the 26 cyclists on this year’s team is an emergency room doctor who helped treat Sandy Hook victims on the day of the shooting. Two other cyclists have personal connections to the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 that left 32 victims dead.
The cyclists are all every day people who volunteer their time to complete what Frank calls a “grueling ride.” They are supported by a crew of six volunteers.
Frank described the success of the Team 26 ride, which grows and partners with more gun control advocacy groups each year, as “bittersweet.”
“On the one hand I’m really proud of the team and my teammates for working so hard and so selflessly to ride to try and make a difference in our country,” he said. “On the other hand, every day that I have to work on this and to plan for it and get on my bike and ride for it, it makes me sad that it came about because of 20 first graders and six wonderful teachers being murdered in their classrooms.”
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