BUFFALO, NY -- At Engine 21, Ladder 6, Rescue 1 Quarters on Jefferson Ave., firefighters prepared to welcome home one of their own.
Jason Czora, who departed Colorado Springs, CO on August 17th, was due to reach the end of his long journey at roughly 5:30 p.m. on Monday, give or take a few minutes. Forgivable, considering he'd been riding for ten days straight to make sure he arrived on September 11th.
"I'm hurting," Jason said, "but I'll be OK."
He should know, he has some experience with this kind of thing before. In 2016, Jason rode his bike from Buffalo to Maine with a group, personally raising $1,400 for Roswell Park. That trip inspired him to try it this year on his own. For his charity, he settled on the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
"It's one that hits a little bit closer to home," Jason elaborated, "where they not only pay off mortgages for firemen and policemen killed in the line of duty, but they build smart homes for disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan."
He decided to set off from the Fallen firefighter Memorial in Colorado Springs and he documented his journey in photo and video posts on Facebook.
The trip was not without incident. In addition to the physical toll, Jason's bike broke numerous spokes and tires to the point where he joked he'd be a expert at bike repair by the end of the journey. He even stopped to watch the eclipse in Kansas. The weather was occasionally rough, but he pushed through, and as he passed the state line said he felt remarkable moved. "I honestly didn't think this was ever going to happen," he remarked. "I can't even...there aren't even words."
As he crested over the hill at Jefferson Ave. and Best St. in downtown Buffalo, mere feet from his finish line, the reality of what he'd just accomplished hit him again.
"Coming down this hill, I was overcome with emotion. Like, thank God I have sunglasses on," he joked.
As he pulled into the entryway of his fire house, followed by a full police escort, he was greeted with applause and the waiting arms of his family and friends. His mother Judy was one of those waiting to tell Jason just how much she missed him.
"It makes my heart so proud," she exclaimed. "I can't believe my son would do something this wonderful."
As they embraced and took photographs to remember the moment for years to come, Jason reflected on what the last twenty six days had given him.
"The messages I've gotten, the notes on Facebook, the donations." he reminisced, "it's just changed me as a person."
For anyone still wanting to contribute to Jason's efforts, donations can be made at www.crowdrise.com/czora.