A brisk 31-mile ride on Saturday was a milestone for Jim Kutsch, president of The Seeing Eye.
The morning jaunt put the blind cyclist over the 500-mile mark since April, when he began training for this month’s Gran Fondo NJ ride in Morristown.
“I’m not going to stop after the Gran Fondo. Biking’s in my blood now; I can’t stop,” said Jim, 60.
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Jim’s preparations for the Gran Fondo–that’s Italian for “big ride”– are chronicled in a short movie that will premiere at the Fourth Annual MorristownGreen.com Film & Music Festival on Sept. 17, the eve of the Gran Fondo.
The film highlights Jim’s connection with Marty Epstein of Marty’s Reliable Cycle, and with Atlantic Sports Health, which put Jim through extensive testing to make sure he could handle the ride and train for it properly.
Filmmaker Bill Ivie, whose TV credits include the Olympics, Major League Baseball and Monday Night Football, said the video, titled Jim and I, perfectly fits this year’s Film Festival theme of Sustainability:
“In addition to rediscovering his passion for cycling, Jim’s mission, as he continues to lead The Seeing Eye into the 21st century, is to reaffirm that there are no limits to what a person with a disability can achieve if he or she puts their heart, soul and mind to it,” Bill said. “Nonprofits such as the Seeing Eye are vital to healthy, sustainable communities.”
An avid cyclist before being blinded in an accident as a teenager, Jim continued to ride on tandem bikes with sighted riders but drifted from the sport about 20 years ago when he lived in Florida. It was just too hot for consistent riding down there, he said.
Jim’s enthusiasm for the sport was revived when Marty Epstein named The Seeing Eye, Homeless Solutions Inc. and Grow It Green Morristown as the three organizations that will share proceeds from New Jersey’s first Gran Fondo.
Marty is organizing rides spanning 43-, 63- and 103 miles, all starting and finishing in Morristown on Sept. 18. He anticipates nearly 1,000 riders will participate.
They will include six tandem teams–including Jim and Rob Steidlitz; and Jim’s wife, Ginger, and Rob’s wife, Kirsten Hotchkiss–riding the 43-mile Piccolo Fondo for The Seeing Eye, which is based in Morris Township.
“It’s a great inspiration that they’re riding. Hopefully, they will inspire other riders to do the ride,” said Marty, hastening to add that the Kutches “are not playing the blind card.
“They’re not looking to say, ‘Oh, poor blind people,'” Marty said. “They’re saying, ‘We’re here to enable people to have an active life, and be full-functioning, contributing parts of society.'”
The Seeing Eye aims to raise an additional $50,000 from sponsored riders and the sale of branded cycling jerseys and toy puppies. So far, just over one-third of that goal has been achieved, according to Pepper Bynum of The Seeing Eye’s marketing team.
Jim and Ginger started their training with thorough exams by experts at Atlantic Sports Health, affiliated with the Morristown Medical Center.
Their metabolisms were analyzed to determine how many calories they burned at rest and while exercising, among other factors, to calculate the most efficient training regimen.
Although both the Kutsches were in pretty good shape from walking with their Seeing Eye dogs, Jim said a different set of leg muscles had to be limbered up.
Tandems are tricky under any circumstances, and Jim took many stitches to his thigh after a spill in the spring. On Saturday’s ride, it was obvious that he and Rob, his bike “captain,” had perfected their teamwork.
“I was breaking Rob in,” Jim said of the earlier mishap.