Cyclist raising money for spill killed in crash

Published 9:07 pm Friday, October 8, 2010

Although a Panhandle man’s cross-country bike ride to raise awareness about the Gulf Coast oil spill ended in tragedy, his quest to help those harmed by the spill continues, the man’s pastor said Friday.

Roger Grooters, 66, began his ride Sept. 10 in Oceanside, Calif. He was just days from finishing his 3,200-mile journey when he was hit by a truck Wednesday morning outside Panama City.

Since Grooters’ death, hundreds have visited the blog in which he chronicled his journey and have contacted the church to learn about the retired university athletic director, said Jack Kale, pastor of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church’s waterfront campus.

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“Unfortunately, more people know about what he was doing now that he is dead than did when he was doing the ride,” Kale said Friday as he waited for Grooters’ wife and other family members to gather and begin planning his Monday funeral.

Grooters was moved to action after listening to a July church presentation from social workers who talked about a spike in suicides and domestic violence after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Kale said.

“Everyone in this area was freaking out about the spill and we didn’t know what was going to happen. It was on everyone’s minds around here at that time. He thought that by riding across the country he could raise awareness and let people know about what was happening,” Kale said.

Among the many photos on his blog are ones of him dipping his bike tires in the Pacific Ocean on Sept. 12.

Grooters’ wife, Vicki, followed him in a SUV and was with him when he was killed.

Family members told the Pensacola News Journal that they are uncertain exactly how much money has been raised to date but that the money will go to counseling for oil spill victims. Kale said Friday that fundraising is ongoing.

The Grooters attended Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church’s waterfront services on Pensacola Beach. The congregation met on the outside deck of a beach restaurant.

Roger Grooters joined the congregation on his way east Sunday, just three days before his death. He updated them on the progress of his trip.

“Roger had the Gulf in his heart,” Kale said. “He worshipped here where instead of stained glass and pews we see dolphins jumping and surf rolling.”

Grooters was the former executive director of the Academic Center for Student-Athletes at Louisiana State University.

He also served as assistant athletic director at Florida State University and previously coached track at North Dakota State University and the University of Missouri.