Making headway for heart disease research

Courtesy photo
From left, Steve Gronlund, Mark Ray and Tim Pudvar celebrate after completing the 19th annual Jim Ray Memorial Heart Ride.

Staff Writer

Mark Ray, Steve Gronlund and Tim Pudvar don’t just go the extra mile for heart disease. Over the years, they’ve gone thousands of extra miles for the cause.

This year they biked almost 132 miles to raise money for heart disease prevention, education and research in the ride they have named the Jim Ray Memorial Heart Ride.

The trio raised almost $11,000. The Jim Ray Memorial Heart Ride has raised $190,000 over the years that they’ve been doing it, said Mark Ray. Jim Ray was his father, an avid cyclist who passed away from heart disease at 64 in 1996, a couple of weeks after quadruple bypass surgery, when Mark was 34.

The annual ride also honors Mark’s grandfather, Gronlund’s grandmother, grandfather and uncle, other family members and friends and the millions impacted by heart disease and stroke.

Ray and Gronlund have been doing these long rides every year for 19 years. Pudvar joined them five years ago.

Strong winds, steep hills, spectacular views

This year, the three started at 4:45 a.m. on Saturday, June 15, in Shelburne where they live and headed north to the Champlain Islands.

“There’s not a lot of traffic when you start at 4:45 a.m.,” Ray said.

They caught the ferry from Grand Isle to Plattsburgh and headed south.

“Immediately upon turning south we were greeted with a strong wind and many hills over the next 70 miles,” he said in an email. “It was a grind, but the roads were good and views spectacular, including Ausable Chasm and Adirondack Park.”

When they turned back north after crossing from Crown Point, N.Y., to Chimney Point, Vt., on the Lake Champlain Bridge, they found the wind at their backs for the ride back home.

Ray said his father had biked a couple of “double centuries” (200 miles) in a day. When he was 12 or 13, Mark biked a double century with his dad, but over two days, not one.

Oh, deer

Last year, the trio did a double century on the P’tit Train du Nord in Canada, a multi-use recreational trail where there was formerly a railroad. The trail runs from Saint-Jérôme just northwest of Montreal more than 200 miles north to Mont-Laurier.

Around mile 188 they startled three deer. When one of the bikers swerved to avoid the deer, he ran into a biker behind him. All of the bikers went down. Fortunately, their bikes weren’t badly damaged. Other than being scrapped up and sore, no one was seriously hurt, Ray said.

Part of their goal is to do what they can to help educate the next generation of heart researchers. Toward that end, this year they sponsored a lecture at the Cardiovascular Institute of Vermont at the UVM Medical Center by Dr. Viviany Taqueti, the director of the Cardiac Stress Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

“She was compelling to the extent that I could understand her, but it was clear that in the world of cardiovascular research, she’s a rock star,” Ray said.

Great time to donate

For the first 10 years, the Jim Ray Memorial Heart Ride went to Middlebury and back to Shelburne, but then the group decided to do a different, “crazy” ride, each year, Ray said. Some years, it’s a double century. The first “crazy” ride was also their first double century – in 2011, when they rode the entire length of Vermont from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border.

That ride was also noteworthy because they were hit by a torrential rainstorm in Bennington.

“We were riding our bikes on the street and had no idea if the road was below us because we couldn’t see it,” Ray said.

But it was worth it – they raised more than $12,000 that year.

Although this year’s ride was in mid-June, Ray said that it’s not too late to donate. In fact, this might be a very appropriate time to donate. Friday, July 19, is his father’s birthday.

To contribute, go to or send a check by mail to 385 Woodbine Road, Shelburne, VT 05482.

But there is an even more important reason why it’s not too late to donate:

“We haven’t cured heart disease, yet,” Ray said.

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