WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Bicyclists were applauded as they made their way through the streets of the nation's capital Thursday afternoon. But the loudest recognition came when they entered the plaza at the National Law Enforcement Memorial.
With the steep hills and rough terrain behind them, more than 1,400 officers, survivors and supporters smiled, waved and pumped their fists into the air as they rode along the sidewalks of the memorial. Some extended the arms to accept congratulatory slaps.
Those who participated in the 15th annual Police Unity Ride raised $1.5M for the National Law Enforcement Museum.
Each wore a bracelet bearing the name of a fallen officer. "We ride for those who died" were emblazzoned across the back of their shirts.
Despite being sweaty and sore, Christine Ross was especially proud. "I rode in honor of my brother, David Petzold, who died in the line-of-duty on Nov. 9, 2006."
The officer with the Upper Saucon Township, Pa. Police Department was hit by a vehicle while removing a deer from the road.
"I'm tired, but this was the most rewarding thing I've ever done. It's also been the hardest, but it was an honor to ride for him," she said.
Ross was sitting on a wall at the police memorial last year talking to an officer, who encouraged her to join the ride.
"I've never been athletic. I was the last one picked," she said with a laugh, adding that she's been training for seven months. "It was just an incredible journey."
Nick Castellano also had a special person in mind as he pedaled from New Jersey to Washington -- his brother, New Jersey Trooper Marc Castellano, who was struck and killed in June 2010.
Castellano, an officer in Ocean Township, N.J., smiled as he talked about his brother. "He was a member of the state police tactical team. They called him 'Aces.' He was the best of the best..."
He said he's still in disbelief that he lost his brother.
Another officer spoke of the riders' determination. "One guy broke his arm, but he was determined to finish. He finished. Then, he went to get treatment," explained Bassait, N.J. Officer Juan Duzuniga. "He wanted to get back on the bike today, but they wouldn't let him. It wasn't safe. But, he really wanted to."
Duzuniga, part of the Unity support team, said he enjoys meeting and getting to know the riders.
Likewise, Linda Michalowski said by the end of the race everyone is like one big family.
Throughout the day, families, co-workers and friends made rubbings of their fallen hero's name. Hundreds of colorful wreaths -- some containing an officer's picture or ribbons with names -- were lined up behind the walls.
In addition to flowers, there was a myraid of personal momentoes. There were letters from officers' children, a hat and white gloves, poems, framed newspaper articles, family pictures and shadow boxes. Above one wall was a display that included a framed picture of an officer, a large bottle of Tequilla, a bottle of hot sauce and plastic shot glasses.
Despite the crowd, which grew throughout the day, the plaza was quiet. People whispered.
The annual candlelight vigil will be held there Friday night.