As nearly 500 cyclists sped past the Boston Marathon finish line Sunday, ending their "Tour De Force" ride from ground zero in New York City, they carried things with them — tangible and abstract.
Dusty Miller, an MIT police officer, said he carried thoughts of Sean Collier — his co-worker who was shot and killed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev three days after the Marathon bombings — as he chugged along the last leg of the ride.
Tim Evans, a Washington, D.C., police officer, pedaled the old road bike of a friend's brother, a firefighter who died when the South Tower of the World Trade Center crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001.
Paramedic Emily Prezzano, who trailed the riders in her SUV, said images of the horrors she witnessed as an EMT at ground zero rattled in her head as she bandaged bikers' legs on the trail.
The Tour De Force is a four-day, nearly 300-mile ride organized to honor victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and raise funds for families of police officers killed in the line of duty.
For the last three years, organizers have dedicated the final leg — from Warwick, R.I., to the Marathon finish line on Boylston Street — to Collier, Miller said.
"The reason I do this is for Sean," Miller said.
"It's a long way, and it opens up a lot of old wounds for me."
The ride raised more than $500,000 this year, organizer Robert De Paolis said.
"One hundred percent of what we raise goes to families of officers," he said. "This ride makes a huge difference."
Prezzano, of Westchester, N.Y., said she finds the Tour De Force therapeutic. Prezzano works as a support system for the cyclists, stitching lacerations sustained on the route and applying ice packs to bruised legs.
As she drove her truck Sunday down Boylston Street, where this year's ride ended, she reflected on the event's sad undertones.
"For me, and for a lot of people, it seemed like this was the only chance to take something negative and turn it into something positive," she said.
Riders laughed and cried as they celebrated at the Black Falcon Fish Pier in Fort Point on Sunday afternoon.
Evans, 52, puffed on a cigar he lit as he crossed the Boylston Street finish line.
He said he was honored to ride New York Fire Department Lieutenant Peter Freund's bicycle.
"It's really emotional to think about him," he said. "He made the ultimate sacrifice."
Freund's sister, Barbara Salvador, 57, of Holmdel, N.J., wept as she thought of her "sweet brother."
"You just keep thinking about these people, the people that jumped out of windows trying to save themselves," she said. "Why did this happen?"
Boston Police Detective Chris Hamilton picked up the ride in Rhode Island Sunday morning and helped organize the Boston component. This year, he said, it was more important than ever to hold a positive law enforcement event, in light of the national conversation surrounding shootings by police.
"Fourteen years ago, we lost officers and said we'd never forget," he said.
"Now it's OK to kill cops in the line of duty. We're losing people, so it seems like we've forgotten."
As quickly as they passed through Boston, the cyclists disappeared, many hopping off their bicycles and onto Leprechaun buses back to New York City immediately.
The effects of the ride echoed along the route long after the cyclists passed.
"It's good for people to see the human side of police officers," Prezzano said. "People forget police officers are human beings. The ride does a lot to help that."