After a grueling 79-mile bicycle ride from Santa Barbara to Malibu, the diminutive bicyclist barely looked winded. On the 14th day of his 18-day journey from the Oregon border to California’s border with Mexico, Travis Risley didn’t think about exhaustion or where he’d spend the night or have his next meal. The 16-year-old high school student from Napa only has one thing on his mind as he traverses the 1,000-mile path down California’s coast — the safety and well being of our nation’s men and women police officers.
Risley is trying to raise awareness and money for the California Peace Officer’s Memorial Foundation (CPOMF) on his epic bike ride — the first time he’s attempted and tested his endurance for this lengthy a period.
The incoming high school junior has so far raised $15,000 that will be distributed through CPOMF and given to the families of fallen police officers. The cause is meaningful to Risley, whose own father has had a lengthy career in law enforcement.
“I know the fear of him not coming home every day. That’s what inspired all of this,” Risley explained Thursday afternoon upon his Malibu arrival. “It’s tough on families.”
Asked about how tough his daily endurance rides are, the dedicated fundraiser mentioned battling head and cross winds but then added, “when I remember who and what I’m doing it for, it makes it a bit easier.”
As Risley crossed the Ventura County Line into Malibu, two appreciative Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies met him for an escort into the Civic Center, where more supporters then joined him.
The family of fallen Palm Springs police officer Lesley Zerebny wanted to personally greet the young man whom they hailed a hero for his support. The 27-year-old Zerebny was gunned down along with her partner Gil Vega while answering a domestic abuse call last October. Zerebny had just returned from maternity leave and left behind a grieving husband who works for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department as well as a daughter, only four months old at the time of her mother’s death.
Zerbney’s father-in-law, Matt, described the family’s pain.
“You bounce between indescribable grief and sorrow and overwhelming gratitude for the people who have supported our family,” he said. “It was very important for us to meet [Risley] and tell him, ‘Thank you.’ We’re impressed that a 16-year-old would have so much wisdom and compassion to be able to reach out to other families in the midst of this grief.
“On behalf of the Zerebny family, we want to thank Travis and his family from the bottom of our hearts for their compassion,” Zerbney continued. “They’re heroes to our family. Going through the grief every day is a nightmare for us, but to have someone like Travis with his compassionate heart do what he’s doing is a ray of light for us in a living hell.”
Risley’s dad, Dan, who’s been following the teenager in the SAG (support and gear) van, described his son’s effort.
“Since we started this journey on July 7, it’s been an extremely humbling experience for both of us,” Dan Risley said. “I’ve been in law enforcement for over 27 years. But to actually be in a vehicle and see what the public sees — it’s impressive. Everybody we’ve run into — it doesn’t matter where we work in the state — we make sure everyone is safe and we’re part of the community. I think having a 16-year-old bring that type of awareness to an organization is incredible.”
Mom Andrea Risley chimed in: “We’re really, really proud of him — our whole family and his three older brothers. He’s a good kid with a big heart.
“He went to the memorial in Sacramento, and it was the peace officer memorial they do every May, and saw Zerebny’s daughter dressed in a miniature uniform held by her dad, and that was too much for Travis,” Andrea Risley continued. “He said, ‘Mom, that was too hard.’ One inspiration was seeing the families. He’s thinking about them and, honestly, he’s been terrified since with all of the negativity in the press. He’s terrified his own dad is going to be killed. He couldn’t sleep at night. He’s said, ‘Is dad going to be here when I wake up?’ That’s tough for kids.”
Zerbney’s family in unison called the 16-year-old “Superman.”