Michael Myers is a Boston Local 103 member who, over the last 30-plus years, has spent a lot of his spare time cycling. For him, it’s more than just a hobby:
His adventures have carried him across 41 states, Canada, Europe and even Australia, often in support of charitable causes.
So, when the 32-year journeyman wireman learned that co-worker and fellow member Leo Cooney had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he decided to make his 18th long-distance cycling tour one that raises money to help research into the prevention and cure of this degenerative and fatal disease.
Since January, Myers has worked for signatory contractor McDonald Electrical Corp. on an inside wiring project at Northeastern University. He had only been there for about a month when he learned of a brother in need.
“Six of us were meeting in the electrical room one evening at the start of the second shift,” he recalled, “and my foreman hands a box to one of my co-workers.”
Inside was a baseball cap that had the words “Friends of Leo” printed across the front.
Leo Cooney is the brother of McDonald Electrical co-founder Tom Cooney and was diagnosed in 2017 with ALS, a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord by attacking the motor neurons that control muscle movement. Those who have ALS gradually lose their ability to speak, eat and breathe on their own.
Inspired by his fellow IBEW member, Leo Cooney (left), who has ALS, Boston Local 103’s Michael Myers (right) is cycling across the U.S. as a fundraiser for a possible cure for the disease.
Myers discovered that Leo Cooney had been active for most of his early life, playing football on trophy-winning teams throughout high school and college. After receiving his degree, Cooney worked as a health insurance administrator while continuing to play football semi-professionally, moonlighting as No. 66 for Massachusetts’s minor-league Randolph Oilers.
Tom Cooney eventually encouraged Leo to enter the electrical trade and join the IBEW as a member of Local 103.
“I found two videos of Leo that stood out,” Myers said. “The first was of him sitting on his front step talking about his new diagnosis in 2017. The second was from a few years later, with Leo petting his dog while a friend spoke on his behalf.” By that point, the disease had taken away Cooney’s ability to speak, Myers said.
Seeing the man’s condition resonated with Myers, who has vivid memories of his own father’s battle with a similarly degenerative disease, multiple sclerosis.
“The labor movement was his calling and passion,” Myers said of his father, Frank, who was diagnosed with MS in 1983. “He loved nothing more than getting people back to work for a fair living wage.”
The elder Myers had served as an organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in Springfield, Mass., and later became a regional AFL-CIO director for New England.
Michael, who joined the IBEW in 1989 shortly after graduating high school, said Frank had been instrumental in getting him connected with the union. Early in his Local 103 apprenticeship, Myers also trained for his first cycling tour, a four-day, 400-mile ride in 1990 with his brother-in-law from suburban Boston to his grandparents’ house near Philadelphia.
It was an eye-opener, Myers said. “I was a weightlifter and didn’t have the aerobic engine needed,” he said. “I had some work to do.”
The experience of training for and enduring that first long ride inspired him to attempt longer trips, and in 1997, he completed a 32-day, 3,200-mile solo trip from Maine to California.
Six years later, Myers ran in the Boston Marathon with his father, who was still fit enough then to compete in the race’s wheelchair division. But eventually, Frank’s condition weakened to where he was forced into a medical retirement, and he died in 2014.
Some of Myers’s long-distance rides have raised money and awareness for charity, including one for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of his father, so he contacted Tom Cooney about making a similar trip focusing on Leo and others living with ALS. Cooney readily agreed.
Myers then connected with ALS ONE, a nonprofit that bills itself as a partnership of researchers and doctors searching for effective treatments for ALS. Soon, the wireman was planning a mid-June departure on a 4,000-mile trek from Fort Stevens, Ore., to his home in suburban Boston with a goal to raise at least $30,000 for ALS ONE.
His somewhat indirect course, mainly along established cycling and rail-trail routes, would allow him to check four more states off his list: Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
The ride’s plan includes early wakeups to take advantage of the relative morning coolness, daytime rest breaks where possible, then a few more hours of eastward riding into the evening, all on a Koga Worldtraveller, a touring bicycle designed to withstand long trips.
Finding places to sleep is not expected to be a problem. “I enjoy camping so much,” Myers said, “and in the west there’s so much land for it. Even in small towns, they encourage camping on the town green.”
Like most of his tours, this one is designed to be solo and self-supported.
“What I love about it is the unknowns and meeting interesting people along the way,” Myers said. “People tell you their stories when you’re solo, and you make a lot of new friends.”
The wireman hopes to cover 60-75 miles a day, depending on conditions such as rain and winds.
“I feel just as fit now as ever,” said Myers, who turned 52 on May 28. “I still love exercising, working out at home, doing resistance training.”
Myers’s initial fundraising goal of $30,000 was reached by Memorial Day, thanks largely to donations from fellow IBEW members, family members and friends. McDonald Electrical kicked in a generous $5,360 to the effort, while another contractor, Granite City Electric Supply, not only gave $5,000 for the cause, but it also used its connections with the Boston Red Sox to arrange for Myers to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park on Sunday, June 13, before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Before Boston Local 103’s Michael Myers started his cross-country fundraising ride for ALS, Granite City Electric Supply arranged for him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, prior to their June 13 game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Boston Local 103 members also raised $5,000 for Myers’s ride, and scheduled a kickoff event to wish him well on his journey.
“We are so proud of these two brothers,” said Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis. “Leo, for being so courageous while fighting and battling ALS, and Mike for doing such a selfless and honorable gesture in his ride across country to raise money for ALS ONE.”
A new fundraising goal, inspired by Leo Cooney’s jersey number, 66, was set at $66,000. After breezing past that milepost as well, the Local 103 wireman set a third goal for $103,000.
Myers said that Tom Cooney has granted him as much time off as needed for the ride. “I’ve saved up money for the trip, tucked away what I could,” he said, noting that among the many benefits of his decision to become an IBEW journeyman inside wireman has been steady, good-paying union work.
Myers’s wife, Bonnie, herself a cycling and hiking enthusiast, also has given her husband her full support.
Readers can track Myers’s progress at facebook. com/groups/crosscountryforals.
“But this is not about me at all,” he stressed. “I’m focused on the ride and on raising money for Leo and ALS ONE, which is a job on its own. I just enjoy the adventure of it.”
Visit Friends of Leo, friendsofleo.com, or donate to ALS One at give.classy.org/CrossCountryForACure.