ATLANTA -- If there was a mayor of Virginia Highlands, it would have been Warren Bruno. From behind the bar at Atkins Park, he helped organize business owners and neighbors into a thriving neighborhood. As Atlanta mourns the man that made the city a better place to live, a spandex-clad gang trains in his honor.
They call themselves the Georgia Chain Gang. The group of eight men and women look like moms and dads, bankers and teachers. They suit up in their purple and green spandex jerseys, clip on their thin white shoes, and straddle their bikes. And they become something more.
They are dedicated, logging thousands of miles on their bicycles. Some might say they're a little crazy, preparing for a week of 24-hour riding to cover 3,000 miles.
Today they are heart-broken.
"I have to get out there," Coach Tony Myers said. "I have to get out there for Warren."
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Jerome Rossetti's big shoulders shrink a little bit: "We're going to really think about him a lot. And he'd want us to ride hard." His voice shakes on the final words.
On June 16, the Georgia Chain Gang will ride nonstop from California to Maryland in the Race Across America. They do it to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Jane Eastham said the race and Bruno's fight against cancer have a lot in common: "The will to persevere and keep going forward through the long haul."
When they started the Georgia Chain Gang three years ago, Warren Bruno was on their crew. Frank Fuerst spent miles on the road with him as they supported the team on their cross-county ride.
"When you spend that much time together, you really feel like you get to know someone," he said. "He always had this certain calm in the center of the storm, and yet he had this great cheer at the same time."
The next year, when the Lymphoma came raging back, he was too sick to go, so he called them every night. They played his voice over a megaphone. The group laughs about how he'd yell obscenities and tell them to ride faster. "He was still with us that year," Myers said.
There will be no calls this year. Warren Bruno died last week.
"The word has sort of spread through the city like crazy, like wildfire," Myers said. "A lot of people really cared about Warren. It was hard not to."
"We said he had a two-year going away party is what he told us the last time we saw him," Rossetti said.
It was a party filled with so many people, and a simple, single message. Teammate Lisa Wilson explained, "It's almost as if in his two-year goodbye, in his process of dying, he was teaching everybody else how to live."
Warren Bruno's funeral will be held Wednesday, May 23 at 2 p.m. at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. A celebration of his life will be held following the service at Bruno's restaurant, Ormsby's.