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McKee rides towpath for a cause

Area bicyclist, 72, raises funds for San Mar bike ride fundraiser

August 08, 2010|By PAULA GREEN SHUPP / Williamsport correspondent
  • Oakiee McKee is shown on his 1956 Hercules three-speed bicycle as he begins a bike ride at Cushwa Basin.
Submitted photo,

Oakiee McKee celebrated his 72nd birthday July 10 at a C&O Canal campsite in Little Orleans, Md. He was one of 125 participants who left Cumberland, Md., that day on a four-day, 184-mile bicycle trip on the C&O Canal towpath to Georgetown, Md.

The Great Bicycle Tour of the C&O Canal benefits San Mar Children's Home in Boonsboro. The tour offers a bus ride to Cumberland, meals and snacks, camp site fees, hotel for the third night, T-shirts, and return to Washington County. Participants pay a registration fee, raise sponsorship funds and share a lifetime memory.

This year was the first time McKee entered the ride and he gave his 18-year-old granddaughter credit for getting him interested. McKee said he rides his bike 25 to 50 miles a week, mostly on the canal towpath, but had never biked the whole canal. With his granddaughter's urging, he registered for the bicycle tour.

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McKee's bike is a Hercules three-speed English bicycle that he purchased when he graduated from Williamsport High School in 1956. "I bought me a bike and a Fiberglass canoe, and I still have both of them," said McKee, who lives on Broadfording Road in Hagerstown.

On the second day of the ride, McKee said he had a flat tire. "Since my old bike had odd-sized tires, the organizers had to take me to Kmart and wait while they found one and had it brought in. I got behind in the ride, but I caught up with the group before the end of the day," McKee said.

In 1991, McKee was struck with tuberculosis and waged a four-year bout with the disease. He said his weight plummeted to 97 pounds. He gradually gained his strength back by walking along the canal and then eventually bicycling. Today he is a svelte 155 pounds, eats oatmeal for breakfast and drinks orange juice.

Bruce Anderson, director at San Mar Children's Home, said 109 individuals finished this year's bicycle tour and so far it has brought in more than $92,000 for the home. But Anderson quickly added, "The ride is not the story. The story belongs to the individuals making the ride."

"For example, Tom Perry, who, at 75 years old, is an inspiration to everyone.

"This is our 23rd year for this ride and Curtis Bachtell has made every one, raising more than $18,000 for the home. And let's not forget Clara Ritenour. At 8-years old, she was our youngest participant and raised $15,000. But that's a story in itself, just like Oakiee."

More information about the Great Bicycle Tour of the C&O Canal is available at http://www.tgbt.org.

The Cumberland Valley Century, a bicycle tour of Washington County, takes place Aug. 15. The ride starts at 7 a.m. at San Mar. Proceeds benefit San Mar. For more information, call Beth Johnston at 301-797-1235.

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