For school resource officer Tracy Burbach, the choice of strapping on a bicycle helmet and pedaling more than 250 miles from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., was a personal one.
Burbach first learned about the Police Unity Tour one spring when a trailer filled with bicycles appeared in the parking lot at the Wauwatosa Police Department.
Members of the Wisconsin Riders were there to educate officers about the national event with hopes they would join in on the annual ride that raises awareness of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty and collects money for the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial and Museum.
'We had to learn about (the tour) through a tragedy of our own,' Burbach said, referencing the death of Wauwatosa Police Officer Jennifer Sebena, who was killed by her husband just months before, on Christmas Eve in 2012, while on duty.
Burbach said she was close to Sebena and the decision to join in the tour the following year was an easy one.
'I made it a challenge to myself to educate young officers (about) what the Police Unity Tour was all about,' she said.
This year, four members of the Wauwatosa Police Department completed the four-day bicycle ride to remember a number of those killed while on duty, including Sebena, and to honor their survivors with the motto: 'We Ride For Those Who Died,' Burbach said. Patrol Specialist Jeremy Bronner, Det. Lt. James Mastrocola and Sgt. Katie Gierach also participated in the ride.
To ride, you must be either a law enforcement officer or a survivor, said Burbach. The experience instills a roller coaster of emotions from the participants, she said.
'What more inspiration do you need when you're riding next to a man who buried his son?' she said. 'We ride for officers who made the ultimate sacrifice but to also support their loved ones and families.'
Approximately 2,300 people participated in this year's bike ride, which began in Philadelphia and wove through Delaware and Maryland and ended at the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial in Washington D.C.
Bronner said he was 'glad to be wearing sunglasses' when the group arrived at the national memorial, as the bittersweet atmosphere at the event drew him to tears.
'Being a police officer is a very tough thing to do and when you lose somebody, you lose part of yourself,' he said. The ride helped reaffirm what called him to initially join the force, he said.
Riders were greeted by a large crowd at the memorial, who clapped for more than hour as bicyclists rode through the memorial.
'That's how many officers rode through,' Burbach said. 'It's a powerful thing.'
Riders delivered keepsakes to family members and placed photographs and badges near the names of officers etched into the memorial, such as that of Sebena.
In addition to Sebena, the officers rode in honor of McFarland Police Officer Ryan Copeland, who died at age 33 from a head-on collision in the Town of Albion, and for Wisconsin State Trooper Trevor Casper, 21, who was killed during a shootout with a bank robbery suspect in Fond du Lac during his first solo day on the job. Both incidents happened in 2015.
Riding in the event is more than just long hours of training, Bronner said. Each participant must raise at least $1,850 — plus a long list of other expenses — and use vacation time. However, all the challenges, including biking in the pouring rain for miles on end, are well worth the sacrifice, he said.
Burbach agreed: 'My message to any fellow officer is that it's honestly the most powerful, meaningful thing I've done in my career.'
Both Burbach and Bronner said they plan to participate again next year.
The police department holds a number of fundraisers every year to support the cause, including the Donut Dash, working concession stands at Miller Park and holding an annual pig roast, among others.
To donate to their effort, drop off a donation at the Wauwatosa Police Department, 1700 N. 116th St.