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Bike Ride Honors Vet Killed in Afghanistan

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Joe Theinert

By Annette Hinkle


With its rolling hills and pristine water views, Shelter Island is perhaps one of the most picturesque places for a bike ride on the East End at any time of year. But this weekend, there’s another good reason to head over to Shelter Island for a bike ride.

On Sunday, September 2, The Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund hosts the Inaugural 2012 Shelter Island Spur Ride. Cyclists can choose from a 12.5 or 25 mile route around the island. The event includes a post-ride barbecue at the Shelter Island American Legion and a fly-over of South Ferry by a UH-34 Marine helicopter. Proceeds benefit organizations supportive of veterans and their families as well as five scholarships offered by the fund.

The ride honors U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, a Shelter Island native killed in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan. He was 24 at the time of his death, and for Matt Rodhe, who’s been instrumental in organizing this bike ride, honoring Theinert’s memory is personal.

“Joey and I were super tight and I’ve been close to the family and working with his mother, Chris, and the foundation from the beginning,” explains Rodhe. “Between myself, my wife Shelley and Chris, we put this together.”

Ironically, though he organized the ride, until recently, Rodhe himself hadn’t been on a bike in years. In a very real way, it was his friend Joe Theinert who got him back in the saddle again.

“It’s a funny story,” says Rodhe. “The Wounded Warriors host a bike ride on the North Fork, and they’ve done it two or three times in Joe’s name.”

“I rode in the North Fork ride last year,” adds Rodhe. “It was the first time I’ve been on a bike since fifth grade and it was a 30 miler. It was cool, but the whole time we’re riding, all the people from the island said, ‘Why not do something like this on Shelter Island.’”

So Rodhe decided to take the ball and run with it … and by the way, not only did he survive his 30-mile bike ordeal, he thrived.

“When it was over, I felt like a million bucks,” says Rodhe who adds that he and Shelley immediately went out and bought new Trek road bikes. They have been riding ever since.

“Joe led me to a lot of new stuff – sometimes it was good and sometimes I’m angry,” adds Rodhe, a captain at South Ferry who met Theinert through Joe’s brother, Jimbo, and ferry owner Cliff Clark.

The two immediately forged a strong bond.

“He said he was going into the Army as an officer,” recalls Rodhe, a veteran of Desert Storm. “He was going into armor, the same field I was in, and we were buddies after that.”

Rodhe recalls that as he prepared to ship out to Afghanistan, Theinert had a lot of questions about what he would be facing in his job.

“I answered the best I could — it sounds like he took it all in and ran with it,” says Rodhe. “I even talked to him one time when he was in Afghanistan.”

But Theinert’s time in Afghanistan was brief. He arrived in March 2010, and was killed on June 4 when an IED device he was attempting to disable exploded.

“It was devastating, like someone ripped out a piece of me,” says Rodhe. “Joey was the son we never had – it was a really bad time.”

Which is why for Rodhe, it’s important to keep Theinert’s memory alive through events like this. And incidentally, Rodhe will be doing the full 25 miles, not the 12.5 circuit — going the extra miles for a friend.

“I try to do what I can,” he says.

In-person registration for the 2012 Lt. Joe Theinert Spur Ride is $50 ($25 ages 16 and under) and begins at 7 a.m. Sunday, September 2 at the Shelter Island American Legion, 1 Bateman Road. A kick-off celebration and opening remarks are at 8 a.m. with bikes on the road by 8:30 a.m. Wounded veterans from around the country will take part and afterwards, a  community barbecue will be hosted by the American Legion from noon to 5 p.m. with live music by The Realm (admission for non-riders is $15, $7 for children. Riders can also pre-register online at http://shelterislandspurride.eventbrite.com.