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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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Patrick Reilly bikes to help himself as well as others.
Patrick Reilly bikes to help himself as well as others.

The accidental fundraiser

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Patrick Reilly has been "around" in Milwaukee. He was a staple on the East Side bar scene for years, helming and indulging in the wildest party spots on hot blocks like North Avenue.

And then, he decided to get sober. 

That took him straight across the United States – on his bicycle.

Rewind to about 4 1/2 years ago. Reilly left the bar business and committed to a new lifestyle, replacing alcohol and drugs with a new addiction – triathlons. Training for these super human athletic feats of endurance includes running, swimming and cycling – the last of which became Reilly’s passion.

But, cycling didn’t fully address some of the more mindful aspects of Reilly’s sobriety. He wanted to find some sort of meditation practice to support his new lifestyle and he knew it would need to also have a physical component in order to hold his attention. Enter Ashtanga Yoga. 

And then Reilly decided he wanted act on a scenario he had marinated on for a while. He wanted to cycle across the United States. 

Bound by limiting thoughts that his dream was an impossibility given his responsibilities, financial situation and the sheer time it would take to complete, he basically shunned the idea. He credits his dedication to six days a week of physical yoga practice and to his yoga teachers for giving him the impetus to move forward with the adventure, formulated purely for self-benefit and personal growth.

"My Ashtanga practice opened a door to the exploration of the mind-body experience. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to accomplish a goal. I wanted a walkabout. I wanted to travel. I wanted to run away," he says. "My inner ‘meat head’ wanted to see what my body could do. I wanted to see if my mind or body would break ... and how."

The decision was made and appropriations began when suddenly the real purpose of the trek became crystal clear to Reilly. 

"Once I had decided to that I was going to ride a wave of selflessness came over me," he says. "I learned a great lesson in my sobriety. Anything good that has happened to me – ever – has been a direct result of helping someone else." 

In this case, that someone else was Reilly’s childhood friend, Bryon Riesch, who was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident when he was attending Marquette University in 1998. 

The Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation (BRPF) was established in 2001 to focus on finding a cure for spinal cord injuries through continued research. And so, the informal, solitary ride then transformed into Patrick Reilly’s Ride Across America to benefit BRPF. 

The 2013 ride began on Aug. 22 and finished on Dec. 21, for a total of 4,267 miles. Every penny raised went directly to the foundation and Reilly ended up crushing his goal of raising $5,000. The total money raised through the ride so far now surpasses $8,500. 

Reilly was clearly transformed as well. He is still the same handsome guy equipped with a quick wit and a knack for conversation that consistently ends in laughter. He’s still the tall guy from Waukesha, now with a cyclist’s physique and a yogi’s grace but there is a wise curve to his smile now. It’s like he’s learned the secret to the universe over the past few months. 

Like so many who choose the charitable path, Reilly was left a bit "broke" by his benevolent exercise, but he is continuing his mission of selfless service and now works with Sober Alternative Living Services, an organization that provides safe sober housing and coaching to individuals fresh in recovery. 

Reilly is shy and humble when reflecting on his trip. He talks about the ups and downs in an interview that aired on Today’s TMJ’s "Morning Blend," but it is plain to see that Reilly is a reluctant hero and was fervently trying to redirect the attention to his friend’s foundation. 

And so, perhaps it’s best to honor Reilly with his own words to punctuate this piece. 

"I just rode a bike, Bryon IS the foundation," he says.

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