Referee Dan O’Rourke recently completed a 2,400-mile ride along Route 66 to raise money for the National Federation of the Blind. The referee is hoping his “Ride for Literacy” will help increase funding and improve access for children to learn Braille through the NFB’s Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program.
“This ride will benefit children with severe vision problems, and I am doing this with the support of the National Federation of the Blind. I have a deep connection with people diagnosed with any form of vision disease since my father and grandfather were both blind due to degenerative eye disease,” O’Rourke told the NHLOA. “My father and grandfather were both diagnosed with [Retinitis Pigmentosa].”
“During my life, my father never changed the way he interacted with the world just because of the fact that he was blind; this is the same outlook that the NFB has. This outlook inspired me to create this charity ride to show appreciation for my father and his big role in my life and bring awareness to the blind community. I hope to be able to use my platform to be able to make this a successful event.”
O’Rourke rolled out of Santa Monica, California, on July 27, heading east along what John Steinbeck called “the mother road.” The veteran official – with his family in tow, following behind in an RV – made his way through seven states on his six-week trek. O’Rourke crossed the finish line on September 7 when he reached Chicago.
The referee, entering his 14th year in the NHL, shared some tales from the road with STL Today:
There was the barbed wire he had to climb over early in the ride because “you’ll be riding Route 66 and then all of a sudden, the road just disappears.” There was the time he thought his feet were on fire as he battled 10 to 15 miles of hills and 110-degree heat.
“I’m passing by tractor trailers that are overheating on the side of the road,” O’Rourke said. “I got to the top of that hill and I’m like ‘This ain’t going to be so bad.’ And I’m stubborn.”
There was the time heading into Tulsa when the railroad tracks ejected O’Rourke from his bike and left him with road rash on his elbow and rear end.
“The toughest part was the last five miles that I had to ride with my riding shorts torn up and my butt hanging out riding through Tulsa,” O’Rourke said with a laugh.
The Calgary native made his National Hockey League debut as a linesman on October 2, 1999, working with referee Terry Gregson and linesman Jean Morin as the Atlanta Thrashers took the ice for their first-ever game, hosting the New Jersey Devils. When the NHL moved to a four-man officiating crew, O’Rourke picked up the armbands as a referee; he became a full-time NHL ref in 2005. He’s since gone on to work 1,382 regular season games and 186 playoff games, along with six trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, that me and my wife have done, aside from our kids,” O’Rourke told The Athletic, of his ride. “It’s just been an amazing journey.”
O’Rourke’s summer isn’t over. After a quick break, he’ll be off to NHL Officials’ training camp. All that cardio work on the bike should have him ready to go for endurance testing.
O’Rourke spoke with NHL Tonight prior to embarking on his road trip: