Brian Church has become a kid again.
As a youth growing up in Catlin, the retired Princeton golf coach and high school guidance counselor rode his bicycle everywhere.
As he became older, he strayed away from the two-wheel transportation until five years ago when friends Rich Everett and Barb Swalve — married chiropractors from Princeton — inspired him to return to his youth.
The result changed his life.
Now 55 years old, Church has developed a love and passion for cycling and rides approximately 50-100 miles per week, mostly on Bureau County country roads.
Two years ago, he met his goal of riding 1,000 miles and last summer he rode 1,500 miles. So far this summer, he’s halfway to his goal of 2,000 miles.
“With all the coaching that I did and as a high school counselor, I just never really had the time to spend like you need to spend if you’re going to get into the recreational sport of cycling,” Church said. “Now that I’ve kind of moved on to the next stage of my life, I’ve really picked up an interest in cycling.”
His new love also helped inspire him, Everett, Swalve and fellow friend Tom Tester to create, organize and run Princeton’s Z-Tour, an annual untimed charity biking event in Princeton which will be held Saturday with Princeton’s Zearing Park being the home base.
“The phrase I like to say to familiarize people with the event is, ‘It’s a ride, not a race,’” said Church of the Z-Tour, which benefits Princeton’s Zearing Enrichment Center. “It can be at a leisure pace if you want to make it a leisure pace or it can be a race pace if you want to make it a race pace. There are certain people who look at this as a training ride, but you’ve also got people who are very much leisure and we just want to enjoy the event.”
Just how Church has come to enjoy cycling.
He tries to ride three times a week — depending on the weather — and often rides through the southern Bureau County hills near Tiskilwa.
He’ll ride approximately 25 miles at a time and can ride 40 miles in around three hours.
“I was actually telling my wife the other day that I can ride 40 miles in less time than it takes to play 18 holes of golf,” Church joked. “I never thought I’d be able to say that or do that, but that’s now the speed I ride at.
“There’s some people who can ride a lot faster than I do, but that’s the neat thing about cycling is it’s really about where you’re comfortable at and what works best for you as opposed to what works best for somebody else.”
Some of the routes Church takes have been incorporated into the Z-Tour, which this year will predominantly stay south of Princeton and Interstate 80 in the rolling hills of southern Bureau County instead of also using the flat and fast roads of northern Bureau County that are unable to be used due to tarring and chipping repair.
The Z-Tour has six total routes including the flat 10-mile course, a 30-mile route, a 40-mile route, a 50-mile route, a 62-mile or metric century route and the 100-mile ride.
All routes begin and end at Zearing Park on the south edge of Princeton and riders can begin between 6-10 a.m.
“The first year we were fortunate enough to have 180 people show up, which really blew me away,” Church said. “It expanded last year and we had 325 riders, and this year our pre-registration numbers are really ahead of schedule. It wouldn’t surprise me if we go over 500 riders this year.”
Depending on the route taken, routes take riders through supply and gear stations (SAG stations) at Lake Thunderbird, Tiskilwa, Bradford and Wyanet that remain open until 3 p.m.
Cyclists can register for the event through www.active.com, by downloading the registration form at www.z-tour.org or at Zearing Park on Saturday. Race day assistance for bikes will be available at Zearing Park as well as assistance on the road.
“I am really glad we’ve been able to receive the kind of support we do and that we continue to get because it’s been just a real good thing,” Church said.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.