As an athlete, coach and teacher, Ronald E. Kodish has made a lifetime commitment to keeping fit and staying healthy. That purposeful pursuit will wind its way along Route 6 in the coming weeks, as enduring love fuels a memorial bicycle ride through the picturesque wilderness of the Northern Tier.
On July 25 – four years to the day since his brother, Raymond S., succumbed to lung cancer at age 60 – Kodish will embark on a 400-mile journey in “Bear’s” honor. Starting near Erie, at the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, he plans to average about 50 miles a day on a fundraising trek to the commonwealth’s eastern border near Port Jervis, N.Y.
With no signs of slowing, let alone retiring, the 63-year-old assistant professor in Pennsylvania College of Technology’s physical fitness specialist major logs a minimum of 150 miles each week. He has upped that recently, brutal heat and booming thunderstorms notwithstanding, as the “Bike for Bear” tribute nears.
“I’ve been doing 250, 300 miles a week lately,” he said. “If I’m going to be riding seven or eight days in a row, three or four hours in the saddle every day, I need to get some miles on these legs.” His wife, Teresa, an elementary teacher in the Keystone Central School District, will follow him with the family dogs and a pop-up tent, setting up a home away from home at a strategically chosen chain of campgrounds.
“We picked the starting date because it fit with our life schedules,” he said. “Then my sister reminded me that July 25 is the actual day that Ray died, so the ride has taken on even greater significance. There will be tears of sadness along the way and tears of happiness when I’m done, and there won’t be one pedal stroke that I won’t think of my brother.”
Barring inhospitable weather or major mechanical breakdowns, he hopes to finish by Aug.3 at the latest.
All proceeds from the 11-county ride will benefit the LUNGevity Foundation, the leading private provider of research funding for lung cancer; Kodish has set a modest $2,000 goal in his homegrown attempt to raise money and awareness of the pervasive illness.
“It’s too late for my brother, but it’s not too late for someone else’s brother … or father … or uncle,” he said. “Ray was a 40-year smoker whose cancer was diagnosed at Stage V. I tell my students, ‘If you smoke, stop now. You’ll never regret quitting.’”
Kodish comes by his fit-for-life attitude naturally. His late father, Raymond A., was a renowned college and professional athlete, a beloved basketball coach and a repeated Hall-of-Famer throughout the region. He and his siblings – brothers Ray and Richard A., and sister Rita Filohoski – followed in those sneakered footprints; their orbit was a flurry of practices, game nights, news clippings and trophies by the case.
Ron continued to make headlines as coach of the Lady Wildcats, leading them to a 2006 state championship. Hardly surprising for this life of sports, sports and more sports. (No surprise, either, that “Bear’s” final Twitter message, barely a month before his passing, was “Watching the Phils hammer the Red Sox, finally.”)
Kodish’s athleticism, optimism and dedication will come in handy during a week or so on the road. His ride comes on the heels of the Tour de France, in which European counterparts traversed torturous switchbacks in the Pyrenees Mountains. And while Route 6 won’t be nearly as demanding, it holds some fairly steep climbs.
Making his up-and-down way through such communities as Warren and Kane, Wellsboro and Mansfield (where his father met a young coed named Eleanor Jones, kindling a relationship that endured for more than 60 years), and Tunkhannock and Scranton, Kodish will be joined at various points by encouraging well-wishers. Some will ride along for a few miles, others will offer hospitality.
He draws inspiration from all of it: his friends, family (with shameless bias toward his children and grandson), his brother’s undying spirit, his students and campus colleagues, and a simple desire to achieve something that matters.
“I’m trying to make the most of my ‘dash,’” he said, referring to those years represented by the line between one’s birthdate and death. “My mother said, ‘You’re always challenging yourself.’ And I told her, ‘If life’s not a challenge, it’s not much of a life.’”