Leiter returns home after 17-day bike trek

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TOWER CITY - He received a hero's welcome, but he wants his friends, family and community to know that they are the true heroes and without them his participation in the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride, "Destination Beyond Cancer," would have never been possible.

Fire personnel, and ambulances gathered last Tuesday evening and paraded through Tower City, Muir, Orwin, Reinerton, Williamstown and Wiconisco, to welcome Michael Leiter home from his 17 days bicycle trek across Canada. Leiter participated in the ride in memory of his son, Michael Leiter, who died at the age of 19 of liver cancer on November 13, 2006.

Leiter was on the Epic Team 2 and rode about 150 miles each day, traveling from Vancouver, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from September 5-21. More than $41,500, was raised by him, family, friends and the community for the fight against childhood cancer.

"The support of friends, family and this great community we call home, made me feel like Jimmy Stewart in the movie 'It's a Wonderful Life,'" said Mike, in an interview before the parade. "The support is overwhelming and I am grateful."

Since his return home he has been asked many questions concerning his journey, but he says the three most common ones are: How was it? Will you do it again? and Now what are you going to do?

"To say it was a journey of a lifetime would be an understatement," said Mike. "To say it best is that I did the most I could, with great support and encouragement from friends, family and community in memory of Michael."

Would he do it again? "No, I wouldn't do it again," said Mike. "Not that I didn't enjoy every minute of it, but it would nor could it ever be as great as it was the first time."

Christy Schwartz Leiter, Mike's wife accompanied him to the start of his journey.

"The first Saturday he was away marked our 12th wedding anniversary," said Christy. "Mike didn't forget, when I returned home, sitting on the kitchen table was a bouquet of my favorite flowers and a card from Mike." He had some help from his brother to surprise me."

Mike and Christy were able to tour Mt. Ranier before she had to return home and Mike started out on his journey. Mike has a son, Brian, who is a junior at Shippensburg University.

During the journey, Mike carried several items with him each day that were very important to him and all have a meaning.

The four wheeler: A model replica that came out of Michael's room. "Michael loved to ride the four wheeler but there is one thing I greatly remember, it was when I grounded him from it and his reply was, 'well I have done without it all these years, what is another two weeks.'

A truck that he carried also came out of Michaels room and has been past team members to carry in memory of him.

Another items of Michael's that he carried was a model replica of the General Lee car.

"When I chose this car to bring along, the one thing that kept going through my mind was Michael is going to school in camo shorts and hiking boots, how redneck can that be!" Mike reminisced.

Mike carried a small rosary that was given to him by his brother a few days before he left for the ride.

A pink bandana - Mike has worn the bandana since his first Susan G. Komen walk. He wears it in memory of his cousin Nadine (Buggy) Miller, who was a great person and an inspiration to him. Nadine lost her battle with breast cancer in March of 2009.

He carried a rock that was given to him at Tour for Kids by Shirley Toogood in memory of her sister Sharon.

Mike said there were some very emotionally high and low days throughout the ride. He has blogged his entire experience at http://mikeleiter.snkcr.com.

What are Mike's future plans?

"That's a very good question," said Mike. "When I started this ride I was doing it in memory of Michael. At the beginning in White Rock, I was told this journey would be life altering. I thought no way. Along the way, I realized that I was not only riding for Michael but for Sharon, who's memory I was carrying the rock, for each child on the Champions picture, for each child that the dedication was given every morning and for all children lost or fighting the battle with cancer. I expected this ride to be over, tears shed and I knew what I would be doing but now I do not know. The only thing I do know, is that I will be in the battle to help children and their families with the fight against cancer and work towards a 'Destination Beyond Cancer.'

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