By Clark Judge
(September 25, 2023) — No local EMT responded to more emergencies last year than Dan O’Sullivan, president of the Killingworth Ambulance Association. But he won’t be available this week … and not because he’s sick, injured or on vacation. But because he’ll be riding his bike.
For five days and 337 miles.
“I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do,” said O’Sullivan.
It doesn’t matter. What does is that he’s … well, back in the saddle of his Cannondale bicycle, joining the ninth annual Outreach for Haiti bike ride after missing three of the past four years because of physical setbacks. For O’Sullivan, who last year responded to a KAA-record 283 calls from September 2021-22, it’s a chance to do what motivates him most – and that’s volunteer to help others.
“It’s meaningful,” he said. “People always ask what I get out of it, and I don’t know if satisfaction is the right word. I’d say it’s more like a feeling of accomplishment.”
Given the distance and duration of this bike ride, that’s understandable. But that wasn’t what O’Sullivan was talking about. Assisting those in need is.
He and wife Jan (photo above) are so active helping others that one individual described them as “professional volunteers.” The description fits.
Dan is involved in a myriad of volunteer groups, including the KAA, Lions Club, St. Lawrence Church, Parmelee Farm and, of course, the Archdiocese of Norwich Ride for Haiti. Jan is equally active, serving as treasurer of the town library and board member of the Historical Society, as well as helping seniors each spring with tax returns through the AARP’s Tax-Aide program. She’s also a member of the American Friends of Lafayette and associate editor of their Gazette.
Small wonder the Killingworth Lions Club named the two Killingworth’s 2022-2023 Citizens of the Year.
“Being retired helps” said Jan, “but I’m busier now than I was.”
So is her husband, especially this week. The idea for a bike ride began in the fall of 2014 when Dan, then executive director of the Archdiocese of Norwich’s Outreach to Haiti, sought ideas to raise money. It was then he approached the group’s board and talked about a “virtual bike ride” across Haiti. However, one of the board members, Tom Campbell, heard only part of what O’Sullivan said and asked for a clarification.
“You’re riding across Haiti?” he asked in disbelief. “That’s insane!”
“No,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m talking about riding the distance from one end of Haiti to the other.”
As you might suspect, the distance is 337 miles.
“Ah,” said Campbell, “so you’re riding the distance across Haiti?”
“That’s still insane!” Campbell shot back.
Maybe. But the board approved the idea, the ride began and Campbell was one of the first to participate. And he hasn’t stopped. He’s one of a handful of cyclists who cover the entire 337 miles annually.
“He’s the most pumped to do it,” said O’Sullivan.
The ride normally begins in Maine, usually on a Monday at or near the end of September, and finishes the following Friday in Farmington. This year, however, the course originates in Cape Cod, where Campbell has a home, and winds through Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut – stopping at Connecticut parishes and schools paired with orphanages, parishes and schools in Haiti through the Outreach to Haiti program.
Per usual, it concludes Friday in Farmington.
The purpose of the ride is to raise money for the Outreach to Haiti’s dental and educational programs. According to the Outreach’s medical staff, dental assistance is one of the greatest needs in Haiti, as is support for the island’s students – with donations from the bike ride earmarked for both programs.
“Outreach to Haiti,” said Campbell, “is truly helping and changing lives in Haiti.”
In its first eight years, the ride for Haiti raised $200,000 in donations, O’Sullivan said — including $35,000 a year ago.
“Helping people,” O’Sullivan said, “is not a good enough goal or result. The benefits and rewards are that you end up spending a lot of time with really good people. I’ve been to Haiti a lot (an estimated 12-15 times, he said) and talked to the people we’ve helped. I talked to the students we gave scholarships to and the mothers and their babies who went through our nutrition program. Trust me, seeing it in action is a huge difference from just thinking about it.”
For more information, interested persons are urged to go the https://outreachtohaiti.org/ride-2023.
Photos by Clark Judge