Dad’s cross-country bike ride raises $100K to help fathers help their kids

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Peggy Hirsch gives her husband, David, a kiss after finishing the last leg of the journey with him. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

During daily phone calls to check in with her husband, who was in the midst a cross-country bicycle ride, Peggy Hirsch would hear the sound of cars flying past him and cringe a little.

“He’d be pedaling and talking on a hands-free headset and I’d hear “Vrooom! Vrooom!” and think about him on the shoulder of a highway,” she said.

But David Hirsch, 54, was on a Blues Brothers-style mission — substitute old cop car with road bike — to ride from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago to raise money for Illinois charities that help fathers become more active in their kids’ lives.

He had 10 flat tires and pedaled through severe weather, heat and elevation, arriving on Father’s Day — after 21 days and 2,350 miles — at Progressive Baptist Church in the shadow of U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side.

The church has been a longtime partner in Hirsch’s fatherhood initiative.

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David Hirsch raises his bike to celebrate the end of his 2,350-mile trip on Sunday. “I just wasn’t going to quit,” said Hirsch, 54, of Barrington Hills, who is the father of five and works for Credit Suisse. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“I have a lot of friends who said there’s just no way you’re going to be able to do something like this,” he said.

“I just wasn’t going to quit,” said Hirsch, of Barrington Hills, who is the father of five and works for Credit Suisse.

“It’s not in my DNA,” said Hirsch, who admitted, though, that he did have moments of doubt — in the 100 degree heat of Arizona on the second day of his journey.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh this for 19 more days’ ” he said.

The trip cost about $30,000, and he raised about $100,000, Hirsch said. He founded the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, a statewide charity, nearly two decades ago. The nonprofit agency actively engages fathers in the education of their children.

“There’s 24 million kids growing up without their dads in America and about 500,000 kids born every year without a dad’s name on the birth certificate,” he said.

Much of the ride followed Route 66. On portions of the trip, he rode with about 200 other cyclists, but he covered much of the route solo. He had a rotating support crew, which included his 18-year-old daughter, who drove a camper for several days.

Hirsch will never forget some of the random encounters, like the time he met a Marine in Albuquerque, with whom he exchanged wisdom on fatherhood.

Following the ride, Hirsch planned to attend a White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday.

He was excited about sitting in a seat without a bicycle attached to it.

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