Biking for Babies missionaries crossing diocese supported by a mom from Dunlap

Clare Eckard waves as Biking for Babies missionaries ride through Peoria County on their way to St. Mark Church in Peoria for Mass and a potluck. "There's a lot of people who are sore, but that's part of it. It's a joy," she said of the 600-mile ride. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Hannah Cottingham of Dunlap cries when she thinks of the lives lost because women are told they can’t achieve their dreams and be mothers at the same time.

“I’m living it. I’m a teacher, which is my dream, and I’m a mother,” she said, wiping away tears. “I’m doing Biking for Babies for the moms and the families that don’t feel that support.”

Cottingham was one of four support crew members on the annual event’s Northern Route, which started in Green Bay on Sunday, July 11, and ended at the Celebration of Life in St. Louis on Saturday, July 17. Also converging on St. Louis that day were riders on the Eastern Route, which started in Columbus, Ohio; the Southern Route, which started in Natchez, Mississippi; and the Western Route, which started in Holly, Colorado.

Hannah Cottingham is reunited briefly with her husband, Luke, and children John Paul, 3, and Edith, 16 months, as Biking for Babies stops in Peoria for the night July 15. She was part of the support crew for the ride’s Northern Route. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Together they traced a cross along America’s roads as they pedaled, striving to build a culture of life and raise awareness and funds for pregnancy resource centers.

In the Diocese of Peoria, the 11 Biking for Babies missionaries stopped in Ottawa on July 14 and then rode into Peoria the next day. Cottingham handled the details on this leg of the journey, which included a visit to St. Mary’s Cathedral and the tomb of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Joining her for the Mass and potluck at St. Mark in Peoria on July 15 were her husband, Luke, and their children, John Paul, 3, and Edith, 16 months. Also in town was her mother-in-law, Mary Rose Cottingham from Urbana, who helped Luke with the children.

Being away from JP and Edy was hard, Hannah acknowledged.

“I know they’re young now, but I hope to continue doing this in the future and hopefully JP will remember this and see how important this is, that I’m willing to spend time away to do this,” said Hannah, an English teacher at Dunlap High School and member of St. Jude Parish. “That’s really important for me, to have the kids see I’m living what I believe.”


Like Hannah, each of the Biking for Babies missionaries was prepared to tell what they were doing, why they were doing it, and who they were doing it for, and offered powerful witnesses for life when asked.

For first-year missionary Beth Knapinski, who does advancement and marketing for a Catholic school system in Neenah and Menasha, Wisconsin, when she’s not riding a bicycle, the ride brought her back to Peoria and Bradley University. She earned a degree in public relations and communications in December 2014.

More importantly, though, Biking for Babies is a wonderful cause, she said.

“It’s a unique way to build community, build virtue and to give back — to just raise awareness about pregnancy resource centers and the culture of life,” Knapinski told The Catholic Post. “What’s more unique than riding 600 miles across the country?”

For more information, including how to contribute support the riders’ mission, visit

All of those who are involved in Biking for Babies say that grace is getting them through the ride.

“There’s no way we could do this on our own,” Knapinski said. “It truly is the prayers and support and the cause that keeps me going and it’s been joy-filled, even through the struggles — joy-filled and beautiful. I think that’s a reflection of everything we are as Catholics and Christians.”

One of the support vehicles for Biking for Babies makes it clear to those who are following the bicyclists why traffic has slowed and why they’re riding. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

In his testimony at one stop, Brad Grobbel, a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, who attends St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, said he’s worried about the “ripple effect” of the abortion industry and the sin involved.

“If we are in a society where (life) isn’t cherished, how can we grow in holiness? How can we ever love God? That’s just going to ripple into our culture and society,” he said. “If we can just get a good hold in communicating this message well, I think it will change virtue in our country.”


Clare Eckard, who works in admissions at Ave Maria University in Florida, was humbled by the support she has received. In Ottawa, her host family donated $250 and asked if there was anything else they could do.

“Just experiencing that hospitality and so many people on fire to support the pro-life movement is so encouraging,” she said. “Going through each city that’s what we’ve experienced.”

Eckard praised the work done at pregnancy resource centers, saying “that’s where the pro-life movement really is. Supporting those women is going to stop abortion.”

Babs Sandlin, a labor and delivery nurse at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, and a longtime volunteer at pregnancy resource centers, said she decided to make the ride because “women deserve better than abortion.”

Msgr. Brian Brownsey made it possible for the Biking for Babies missionaries to pray at the tomb of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen at St. Mary’s Cathedral and venerate a relic of St. Gerard, their team’s patron saint, while they were in Peoria July 15. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

When she started her nursing studies, her goal was to be a pediatric oncology nurse. That changed after she saw a baby on ultrasound for the first time and started to cry.

“I’m riding with Biking for Babies for all the women who won’t make it to my labor and delivery floor because they didn’t feel supported or loved enough.”

“It’s lonely sometimes. You feel really singled out,” Hannah Cottingham said. “Sometimes people look at you and say, ‘Oh, you’re pro-life’ and that’s not OK.

“It is OK. It’s right. It’s the truth,” she said. “That’s been really incredible, to see the community around this.”

Biking for Babies was started in 2009 by Jimmy Becker and Mike Shaefer, who had ties to St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Msgr. Brian Brownsey was the vocation director for the Diocese of Peoria at that time and enjoyed talking to them and their friends during office hours there.

Shaefer would go on to serve as a campus minister at the St. Joseph Catholic Newman Center at Bradley University, working with Msgr. Brownsey, chaplain and pastor of St. Mark Parish next door.

Becker is now chairman of the board for Biking for Babies.


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