Canadian father and son finish 730-mile bike ride to Coney Island, raising money for autism charities

Canadian father and son finish 730-mile bike ride to Coney Island, raising money for autism charities
Jon Farina

It was the ride of his life.

A 10-year-old Canadian boy with autism completed a 730-mile, 15-day bike ride with his father from their native Ontario all the way to Coney Island on Sept. 1, raising money for children’s charities along the way. James Potvin’s father, Chris, said that the pair chose to end the trek in Coney Island because they had never been to the Big Apple before and they wanted to ride the Wonder Wheel, adding that the city lived up to the hype.

“There’s no place that we’ve been to that has the same kind of energy and excitement and things going on,” he said, “and there’s not much that’s more iconic than the Wonder Wheel.”

The elder Potvin came up with the idea for the bike ride two years ago, when the summer was winding down and his son, James, felt left out from classmates forging friendships and bonds as the school year began, his dad said. Last year, in an effort to make his son feel better, Chris told him they would go on any adventure that he wanted — and James asked to bike to Canada’s largest playground, Giver 150 Park in Ottawa, 300 miles away.

The pair made the trek, raising money for Grandview Kids, an Ontario-based organization providing treatment and support to kids with special needs and their families.

For this year’s bike ride, the father-son duo decided to travel more than double the length of last year’s ride. They set out from their hometown of Whitby — population 128,377 — on Aug. 18, logging miles along the coastline of Lake Ontario before riding through upstate New York and down to the city that never sleeps. The pair logged only two rest days during their more than two-week trek, staying with host families near museums they visited, including the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum and the Utica Children’s Museum, both upstate.

The pair expected to be awestruck by New York City, but Chris said they were also amazed by the natural beauty of New York state as soon as they crossed the border into Niagra — where half a dozen supporters were cheering — and hopped onto the Erie Canalway Trail, a nearly 400-mile path through upstate.

“All of New York state blew us away,” he said.

And while the father and son were alone for most of the time, some cyclists following their journey under the hashtag #RideJamesRide on social media joined them for a stint at various points along the route.

“A big part of this to us is the community building — we encouraged people to ride with us, and people just kind of showed up,” Potvin said.

And family, friends, and followers also donated to James’s charities of choice, Grandview Kids and EJ Autism, a Long Island-based organization that offers treatment and programs for kids with special needs.

When the pair finally arrived in Coney Island, they were greeted by family and friends, and enjoyed burgers at Wahlburgers and a ride on the Wonder Wheel.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Brotherly love: James Potvin gave his little brother a hug after finishing his ride.
Jon Farina