Subhead: Couple bikes across U.S. to raise money for Shriners HospitalsBy Ashley Bergner Newton KansanJerry and Shirley Smith’s recent bicycle trek across the country is an impressive feat, in and of itself. But it’s even more impressive considering Jerry was born with a crippling illness and grew up in a wheelchair. Jerry, who now lives in Newton, credits the Shriners Hospitals for Children for helping him to walk and cycle, and he wanted to find a way to return the favor. He and his wife Shirley recently completed a cross-country tandem bike ride to raise awareness about the organization, and they also were able to raise more than $11,000 for the cause. Shriners operates 22 hospitals across the country and even abroad, and they treat conditions such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, scoliosis and burns. “It fit me pretty well, since I grew up in a Shriners’ hospital,” Jerry said. “It had more than just a little meaning. ... It’s payback time.” The Smiths are in their 70s and have been married for 54 years. They are avid cyclists: They have biked in Ireland and Nova Scotia, and in the past, Jerry has biked from California to Florida. They estimate they’ve biked through more than 40 states. On their Shriners awareness trip, the Smiths followed a route known as the “Northern Tier.” They started May 25 in Washington and ended in New York. The journey took them about two months. “It was a long ride,” Shirley said with a laugh. They spent the first part of 2012 training in Texas for their ride, clocking in more than 1,000 miles. Shirley said she enjoyed meeting new people on their journey. Some gave money to the cause, some helped them out by giving them directions, and others simply lent moral support. The Smiths said they never felt unsafe or vulnerable on their journey, and they were impressed by how kindly they were treated. “We live in a great country,” Smith said. “You don’t always see it on the news.” Although the weather sometimes presented some challenges — wind could make riding difficult, and bicycling in the rain wasn’t always enjoyable — they enjoyed watching the scenery as they rode across the country, and they said each state they passed through was beautiful in its own way. They even had a chance to ride through part of Canada and stopped at Niagara Falls. The Smiths encouraged others to consider taking up cycling, regardless of their age. Start by riding across the state, the county, or even just a city. “I don’t feel like life should be over after retirement,” Jerry said. “There is life after 60.” “It’s a wonderful recreation to do as a couple,” Shirley added. “It’s wonderful for you physically, emotionally.” The Smiths also are modest about their own accomplishments, and they were simply glad they could make the ride to help an organization in need. “We’re just ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing for an extraordinary cause,” Jerry said. To read the Smiths’ complete travelogue, visit www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/10192.