Silvis deacon physically and spiritually ready for ride in France
By Jennifer Willems
SILVIS — Deacon Matthew Levy will spend his vacation in France this year, but he only plans to rest for about two hours.
That’s all the time he’s built into his 750-mile ride from Paris to Brest, a city on the Atlantic Ocean, and back again. While he has 90 hours — roughly 3.75 days — to complete the trip, he hopes to do it in just 56 hours.
That would make him a member of Le Société Charly Miller, an elite group of cyclists named after the first American to ride Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) more than 100 years ago. The Chicago man finished in 56 hours and 40 minutes and Deacon Levy has been training for two years to follow in his tire tracks.
“That’s my goal, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to make it,” he recently told The Catholic Post. “I want to finish and I don’t want to hurt myself.”
He has a greater goal in mind than crossing the finish line in Paris, however.
“I want to give God all the glory and offer him all the praise,” said Deacon Levy, who serves at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Silvis and St. Patrick in Colona. He is also the spiritual director for Northwest Area Teens Encounter Christ.
“Cycling is so close to our spiritual journey,” he explained. “It’s hoping to reach the destination, but it’s enjoying every aspect and really soaking up every aspect of the journey along the way.”
Deacon Levy said most people who know him on the bike know his mantra: “How am I going to help you cross the line before I cross the line? How am I going to help you finish the race?”
“Conversions, counseling, metanoias — there are just countless opportunities to evangelize when you enter in the chaos of someone’s life on the bike,” he said, noting that he’s offered many smiles, words of encouragement and pats on the back over the miles.
He added that he doesn’t ride in events like Paris-Brest-Paris just to say he’s done it.
“God’s given us gifts. God’s given us tools. How many of us are utilizing them,” he asked. “I want to . . . use the gifts that he’s given me to the fullest. I don’t want any regrets. I don’t want to hear from God, ‘Why didn’t you do this? I gave you this.’”
That doesn’t mean you wake up one morning and think, “I’m going to do Paris-Brest-Paris,” he said.
Deacon Levy, 56, has been riding since he started delivering newspapers in his Long Island, New York, neighborhood as a boy.
As a Navy aviator, his bicycle accompanied him to naval bases in Hawaii, California, Illinois and even the Persian Gulf, where he was the mission commander on the first airplane in Desert Storm.
“I’m out in Desert Storm, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, doing laps around an island, just to keep riding and keep fit,” he said. “Guys would do it on the aircraft carriers, too. I was the captain of the Navy cycling team.”
Deacon Levy also rode for the United States Cycling Federation and seriously competed for a few years.
It was in the Persian Gulf that he read about Paris-Brest-Paris, which started in 1891. At first a race for professional cyclists, it now brings amateurs to the French capital every four years.
He rode Paris-Brest-Paris for the first time in 1991, finishing in 70 hours. Sidelined by car accidents and injuries in the 1990s, he then entered formation for the permanent diaconate and was ordained in 2002.
He calls participation in the 2015 PBP his “25-year comeback.”
To qualify he had to complete a “super randonneur series” of 200 kilometers (130 miles), 300 kilometers (190 miles), 400 kilometers (240 miles) and 600 kilometers (370 miles). Each “brevet” had to be completed within a certain time in order for him to be considered.
Deacon Levy stays in shape by commuting to work at Evanovich, Blessing and Associates in Davenport, Iowa, putting in as many as 70 miles a day. Last weekend he rode out to Coralville, Iowa, and made the last leg of RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa).
Paris-Brest-Paris will take place from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20. He will leave Paris at about 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 16 and if all goes according to plan, he will take a rest stop in Brest about 27 hours later.
He is responsible for everything, including repairs, during the ride. He expects to battle the “demons” of leg cramps, exhaustion and other fears, but said 95 percent of his time on the bike is spent with God: “I do a lot of praying.”
To follow Deacon Levy’s progress, go to paris-brest-paris.org. His bib number is R107.
Cheering him on from Silvis will be his wife, Lisa Ann, and their children Sarah, Crisanto, Victor, Abraham and Mari.