MADRID — When John J. Friot Jr. takes a bicycle ride next month, he’ll trek more than 60 miles across St. Lawrence County and visit three schools and a state park.
In his second ride for Team A to Z, Mr. Friot will help raise money for the local organization’s scholarship fund on Aug. 23. The fund supports high school graduates wanting to work with people with autism and differing abilities.
With his wife Jessica J. Friot and two kids, Mr. Friot lives south of the village of Canton, near Pyrites. Some 17 miles north in Madrid, the Moulton family is gearing up for the benefit ride in a different way.
“It all started when he pulled my husband over for out-of-date plates,” Tonya S. Moulton said. “People are meant to meet.”
About eight years ago, the Moultons were pulling a camper with outdated plates and were stopped by Mr. Friot, a New York State Park Police officer. A few weeks later — with new plates — the Moulton camper was again spotted by Mr. Friot at Coles Creek State Park. That day, Mr. Friot showed the Moultons’ oldest son Adam the patrol car lights and sirens.
“From that point forward, we’ve just been connected,” Mr. Friot said.
Mrs. Moulton and her husband Carter L. Moulton are steadfast advocates for their sons, 10-year-old Zachary and 17-year-old Adam, who are both autistic.
The Moultons have rallied family and friends for nearly a decade, initially raising money for Team Adam, which evolved into Team A to Z.
“From Adam to Zachary, and every kid in between,” Mrs. Moulton said.
Team A to Z funds were first collected for NYSARC, now called The Arc New York, and its annual St. Lawrence County Autism Awareness Walk. The Moultons then established a Team A to Z committee, previously operating under the umbrella of the Massena Rotary Club and now operating under the United Church of Madrid.
After they met, the Friots and Moultons started working together on fundraising efforts, which were bolstered by a regular vendor show — until the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 event. The families instead planned a bike ride.
Mr. Friot rode about 46 miles last year, increased to 64.6 miles this year. Mrs. Friot will escort riders in a vehicle, with assistance from the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and State Park Police.
“I don’t know how John does it; he’s my hero,” Mrs. Moulton said, adding that she cried at the finish line last year. “We eat, sleep and breathe autism around here. This ride means so much to us, especially when the community is behind it.”
The Aug. 23 route begins at Edwards-Knox Central School, north through Canton to Madrid-Waddington Central School and northeast to Massena Central School. From Massena, riders will head to the finish line at Robert Moses State Park.
Last summer’s ride collected about $3,600, enough to cover more than two years of scholarships for graduating seniors from Edwards-Knox, Madrid-Waddington and Massena. Team A to Z is committing to award one $500 cash scholarship to a student from each school annually, and excess donations are reserved for additional scholarships and assistance for families with special needs children in the county, particularly when a need is not covered by insurance or a school district.
Previous scholarships have been awarded to students pursuing work in occupational therapy, special education and self-direction support with the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. If seniors are not planning on working in a relevant field, applicants who have volunteered with people with disabilities are considered.
“We try to be very inclusive,” Mrs. Moulton said. “That’s so important for people on the spectrum and for people working with them.”
The 2021 fundraising goal has been set at $5,000. Contributions include the minimum $25 registration fee for riders, organization sponsors and proceeds from T-shirt and tumbler sales. A friend accompanied Mr. Friot last year, and a handful of new riders have so far pledged to participate this year.
Mr. Friot jokes about his hairstyle — a bald shine — and quips about not being a born cyclist. What started as a mountain biking hobby to stay active with his family has turned into a newfound ambition. He now rides regularly with the Canton Cycling Club and discovered the speed and elegance of road bikes when he bought a used, aluminum-frame Giordano Libero on Facebook Marketplace. He’ll use that red-and-black bike for the Team A to Z ride.
Adam and Zachary remain his motivation to ride, Mr. Friot said, adding that he feels especially heartened by the Team A to Z motto: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
“As cliche as it might sound,” Mr. Friot said, “it’s true and true all the way.”
More information about Team A to Z and annual scholarship details are posted to the Team A to Z Facebook page.
Follow fundraising efforts and make a donation on the Facebook page designated “Officer Friot & Friends Bike for Team A to Z.”
Rain date for the ride is Tuesday, Aug. 24.