Mourners paid last respects Monday to a 66-year-old charity bicyclist whose cross-country ride to raise money for Gulf oil spill victims was cut short just a few hundred miles shy of his goal when he was fatally struck by a pickup truck.
A funeral service for Roger Grooters was held at Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in his hometown of Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Grooters began his cross-country ride on Sept. 10 near San Diego, Calif. He was just days away from reaching his final destination of Jacksonville, Fla. — a distance of approximately 3,200 miles — when his Cervelo bike was struck from behind by a pickup Wednesday morning outside Panama City, Fla., along State Road 20.
His wife Vicki was following him in an SUV and was with him when he was killed.
Grooters, a retiree, rode about 100 miles a day and chronicled his trip’s progress on his blog, http://rogerxcountry.blogspot.com/.
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His last blog entry was Tuesday, the day before he died. It began:
“After two days rest, I was back on my bike in west Pensacola by 8:45 AM, heading for Destin on Hwy 98. The temps was 56 degrees with clear sunny sky's. (cq)”
By day’s end, he had logged 2,179.4 miles in 21 days of cycling and had less than 300 miles to go to finish the journey.
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Jack Kale, pastor of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church's Worship at the Water service, which Grooters attended, said Grooters was “deeply moved” by the BP oil spill and wanted to make a difference.
"In other parts of the country, he recognized they wouldn't see the reality of the suffering that was going to come as a result of the oil spill. He wanted to draw some awareness," Kale told the Pensacola News Journal.
Grooters alluded to the dangers of cycling on America’s open highways and interstates in a Sept. 15 blog post titled “Interstate 10 to Phoenix.”
“After riding 52 miles on Interstate 10 we were in the Phoenix area with traffic and road construction. For the first time on the ride I did not feel safe on the road. The shoulder narrowed and then at times was gone. I stopped and lifted my bike over a concert barrier to avoid getting ‘run over.’”
Family members told the News Journal that they are uncertain exactly how much money has been raised to date but that the money will go to counseling for oil spill victims. Kale said that fundraising is ongoing and visits to Grooters' blog — along with donations — have spiked dramatically since news of his death.
"Unfortunately, more people know about what he was doing now that he is dead than did when he was doing the ride," Kale said Friday.
Family members said they planned to complete the last leg of the ride in his memory.
Grooters was retired from his job as executive director of Cox Communications Academic Center for Student Athletes at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. He is survived by his wife Vicki, his seven children and 11 grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.