The Feehery brothers race bikes competitively, so they felt really bummed when the 2020 cycling season screeched to a halt in the face of the COVID pandemic.
“We chalked the season up as a loss,” said Shane, 29. “I didn’t even want to ride. Mentally I was drained for trying to be in shape for nothing.”
Then Shane’s brother, Brandon “Monk” Feehery, suggested the men think of a way to use their physical training for a good cause. Quickly they developed the idea for Brothers Ride 24, a daylong bike ride to raise money for charity.
“I said, ‘Let’s try to do something epic,’” said Monk, 28. “Our backgrounds with cycling are in short distance, an hour and a half — 50 miles is our speciality. So we were trying to think of something that would get us out of that box of what’s easy for us. We’re gifted and talented with what we do, but with this we have to put in some extra work.”
In the ongoing fundraiser, the brothers have raised more than $5,000 to be split between Pedal for Alzheimer’s and Project Echelon Racing, an organization that helps military veterans to become cyclists.
They started their 24-hour bike ride in Homewood, the town where they grew up and where their parents, Brenda and Steve Feehery, still live.
Monk drove into town with his wife, Alyssa, from their home in Knoxville, Tenn. Shane made the shorter trip to Homewood with his girlfriend, Anna Affias, from where they live in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
Shane and Monk set out from their parents’ house at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 9. Following them in a support vehicle were their significant others and their sister, Paige. In addition to spare bikes and repair equipment, the support car carried jugs of water and nutritious snacks.
“Riding this far for us, it’s like the difference between running a marathon rather than a 5K,” Shane said. “We’re using different muscle groups, and had to figure out nutrition differently.
“Normally we might carry a water bottle and no food for our rides. This time we had to consider what we needed as far as food and water, things we don’t usually think about.”
Together, Shane and Monk rode 318 miles from Homewood to Lake Geneva, then south to the Sandwich, Ill., area, before coming back to Homewood.
After the first major leg of their ride, the Feehery brothers shared a jubilant moment cycling into downtown Lake Geneva. Word of their fundraising effort made it to town ahead of them and they were met with a roar of cheers and applause.
As the hours passed, the trip took them down mostly quiet streets and country roads. During planned and spontaneous stops along the route, Shane and Monk refueled and rested at gas stations, a bike shop and family members’ houses.
All the while, the Feeherys knew their support team was behind them.
“They took the hard job on; they had to make sure we were staying fueled up,” Monk said. “They were pushing us at those low times as well.”
One difficult moment for Monk came about 70 miles into the ride, with the next stop still 20 miles away. Even for a trained athlete like Monk — he did a 150-mile cycle in 2019 — the ride had him doubting himself.
“I was thinking, ‘We’re five hours in; this is going to be a long ride,’” he said. “I was worried about nutrition and fueling up correctly. But we made it to that next rest stop. I got an espresso and I was ready to go again.”
Shane also found himself struggling at points, he said, especially when Monk got into a zone around 2 a.m. The cyclists had been pushing against a headwind that transitioned to a crosswind.
“Monk started taking off,” Shane said. “I was trying to get his attention, but he was so in the mental zone. He just took off and went.”
Though it took Shane a few minutes to catch up, Monk said that breakaway was a motivating mental moment for him. They were 15 hours into the ride and Monk said he suddenly felt the gravity of their endeavor.
“It started to hit me, why we were doing this, what we were doing, and the awareness we were going to raise,” Monk said. “That’s when it hit home for us, mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Any pain or discomfort Monk said he felt at that point seemed trivial compared to the pain experienced by a family whose loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, or that of a veteran trying to reintegrate into civilian life.
Though the Feehery brothers don’t have a direct connection to a family member or friend who is a veteran or has Alzheimer’s disease, they identified their beneficiary organizations through the cycling world. Monk competes with Project Echelon Racing, the competitive team that supports the organization’s efforts for veterans.
“They help reintegrate veterans into a daily active lifestyle, including those who are dealing with PTSD, suicide and mental health issues coming back from war,” Monk said. “Through Project Echelon, we’re keeping them active through cycling, or any high intensity sport they choose.”
Project Echelon has donated more than 500 new bikes to veterans, Monk said, while the team’s professional cyclists provide coaching, mentoring and a connection to a healthy community.
Shane and Monk have competed in cycling since they were kids growing up in Homewood. Their close ages and shared passion for sports meant the brothers were always together, in addition to sharing many friends and a close-knit family.
“Our dad got us into cycling. He was a cyclist. Growing up watching him race, we kind of fell in love with it,” Shane said.
Their father, Steve, was a member of the South Chicago Wheelmen. The organization, founded in 1923, is one of the oldest bicycle racing teams in Illinois.
Though they played other sports growing up while attending Willow Elementary, James Hart and H-F High schools, the Feehery brothers always came back to their bikes.
“Cycling started for us in Homewood,” Monk said. “Growing up, we always rode our bikes all over the place. That’s where we started, before race bikes or any of that.”
By ages 10 and 11, the brothers weren’t just riding up to Dairy Queen for ice cream anymore. They became competitive cyclists, and continue to compete at the professional level, even as they have taken on other responsibilities.
Shane works in sales for a plumbing manufacturing company. Monk is Health and Wellness director for a Knoxville-area YMCA.
While space separates these brothers, their bond as best friends remains obvious, and Shane said they exchange texts and memes every day.
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, Shane and Brandon returned to their parents’ house, rolling up a bit more tired and sore than when they left. However, they said preparation left them feeling not too physically beat-up.
Actually, after they slept for a few hours, their dad rounded up the whole family to play golf. Together they shot nine holes at Coyote Run Golf Course, despite Shane and Monk having just ridden more than 300 miles.
“It’s not too often that I get to play golf with my dad, mom, sister and my brother. We all went, the five of us,” Monk said. “I think ultimately when it comes to family stuff, we’re always willing to be with family. We do a lot of stuff together. It makes life a lot better.”
The Feehery brothers’ fundraising page will remain active through the end of 2020, and it has raised $5,400 so far. Donations will be split evenly between Pedal for Alzheimer’s and Project Echelon, though contributors can choose to designate one organization as the beneficiary of their donation.
Looking forward, Shane said he and Monk want to repeat their fundraising efforts in 2021, whatever the landscape may look like.
“We don’t know what next year brings, whether we’ll do this again or do something different. The world is changing,” Shane said. “We have had people reach out to us who want to keep this going, though, so we will do something next year.”