Tartaglio provides inspiration at Folks on Spokes

In 2004 John Tartaglio lost his left bicep and both of his legs due to a very rare bacterial infection. But that didn’t stop him from riding in the 24th annual Folks on Spokes event, which took place on Sunday at Fowler Field.

Tartaglio rode a hand cycle, which is low-to-the ground cycle with three wheels, which Tartaglio pedals by hand: He did the 20-mile route.

The event supports Bridges, a non-profit organization in Milford that helps individuals with mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addictions. Walkers and bike riders participate, and for the first time, this year runners took part to support a program called Intensive In-Home Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services.

Tartaglio provided inspiration during this year’s event, which paid special honor to Maren Sanchez, the Jonathan Law High School student stabbed to death at her school in April. Participants wore purple shirts in Maren’s honor: Purple was her favorite color.

There were several activities early in the morning. The first were for bike riding, then the new run, and the last one was the walk. The first bike ride was 66 miles long, the second was 40 miles long and the riders traveled through Orange and West Haven. The third bike ride — the 20-mile — had the most participants, and Tartaglio rode in it.

Tartaglio is a promotional consultant and motivational speaker, and he wrote a book, From Tragedy to Triumph. In his book, he tells the story of his life and the importance of setting and accomplishing goals. In the book he says anyone can fulfill their dreams by never giving up.

As he readied for the 20-mile ride, Tartaglio talked a bit about the illness that claimed his legs.

“It was scary, upsetting and a complete shock at first,” Tartaglio said. “But as time went on I very much came to believe it made me a better person. It tested me in a way that most people don’t go through. It showed me that regardless of what adversity I’m faced with, I’m able to overcome it and achieve what I want.”

At noon, Tartaglio gave a very inspirational speech explaining how thankful he was to have such a great support system at his side during the illness that he went through. It affected him physically and emotionally, and although he had people at his side, he said that not everyone is lucky enough to have that, and that is what Bridges is for. Bridges and Folks on Spokes helps many people struggling with challenges by bringing people together, he said. Tartaglio also mentioned the importance of these types of events since mental illnesses can often be overlooked.

This was Tartaglio’s first time riding in Folks on Spokes and he said he enjoyed it.

“It’s amazing to be here today,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.”

Corey Seligson of Milford rode his bike in the second race; he has participated in Folks on Spokes for about eight years.

“It feels great [to be here]; it’s a lot of fun, and I meet a lot of good people. I think it is a celebration of mental health awareness. It is a gorgeous day for the event,” said Seligson.

Participants in the event received Tartaglio’s book and a purple T-shirt, in honor of Maren Sanchez.

Marcy Hotchkiss, director of fund development and communications for Bridges, said Bridges was involved in many of the counseling efforts that took place after Maren Sanchez was murdered. So when it came time to choose the color of this year’s shirts, they chose purple, which was Maren’s favorite color.

“Purple is such a significant color in Milford this year,” Hotchkiss said.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, Mayor Ben Blake and Mayor Edward O’Brien of West Haven came to speak about the benefits of Folks on Spokes and Bridges. Ray Vitali, who serves on the board of Bridges, spoke also, and gave instructions to the walkers, riders and runners.

Vitali, a Milford alderman and candidate for the state representative seat in the 118th District currently held by Democrat Kim Rose, created Folks on Spokes. Vitali is also the chairman of Milford Prevention Council.

“Hopefully we won’t have to deal with as much violence; hopefully we can have more good decisions in our community,” Vitali said.

Last year Folks on Spokes raised a little over $50,000.

Barbara DiMauro is the president and CEO of Bridges, having recently replaced former president Barry Kasden, who retired. DiMauro maintained a constant presence at Folks on Spokes.

“I’m glad I was offered this position so I can be a part of it,” DiMauro said. “I want Bridges to be here 100 years from now.”