Cycling for a Cause

August 05, 2010

Automotive safety expert Azim Eskandarian moonlights as a motorbiker.

By Jennifer Eder

After two months on their bikes, 4,000 miles from coast to coast and thousands of dollars raised for a good cause, three GW students will finally arrive home next Saturday.

For Alex Crook, Jonathan Campbell and Jorge Gadala-Maria, the Journey of Hope has been a life-changing experience.

The three Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers started their summer adventure in San Francisco in June. Before they left, they raised $5,000 each for the Journey of Hope – a cross-country trek that raises funds and awareness for people with disabilities. And during their ride across the U.S., they stopped in more than 50 cities and communities for “friendship visits,” where they played in wheelchair basketball games, splashed around at pool parties and performed puppet shows to educate children on people with disabilities.

“It's amazing to see the difference we can make in a local community,” says Mr. Crook, a rising junior in the Elliott School of International Affairs. “The friendship visits are really what we’re here for.”

The Journey of Hope was created in 1988 by Push America, Pi Kappa Phi’s philanthropic nonprofit organization. Today, the Journey of Hope has three teams of about 25 cyclists that cover three different routes across the U.S. and raises more than $500,000 annually. Each Pi Kappa Phi chapter in the U.S. gets to send a few of its members on the bike race every summer.

“This was something I wanted to do since I pledged the fraternity,” says Mr. Crook, of Chicago, who’s majoring in international affairs. “My heart was set on it.”

As Mr. Crook began to raise the $5,000 needed to participate in the Journey of Hope, his parents told him he had to choose between the bike ride and studying abroad during his junior year.

He says his choice was an easy one.

But training for the Journey of Hope was no easy task.

During the winter months, Mr. Crook, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Gadala-Maria, none of whom had done much biking before, spent their time in between classes riding the stationary bike at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center. When the weather improved, they took their bikes to Rock Creek Park and the Mount Vernon Trail.

“I had thought running and weight lifting was the same kind of training, but after my first 30 mile ride, I learned my lesson very quickly,” says Mr. Crook.

Each team rides an average of 75 miles every day. To pass the time, the fraternity brothers play games and share stories.

“I feel like they’ve become my closest friends,” says Mr. Gadala-Maria, a rising junior in the School of Media and Public Affairs.

From San Francisco, Mr. Crook and Mr. Campbell’s team rode to Lake Tahoe, Calif., Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Mr. Gadala-Maria’s team rode through Santa Barbara, Calif., Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

The third team started their journey in Seattle, Wash. and from there rode to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

All three men say their favorite part of the experience has been the friendship visits.

“When you see these people smile, there’s no other feeling like it,” says Mr. Gadala-Maria, of Lincoln, Neb., who’s majoring in political communication. “To be able to spread this happiness throughout the whole country is incredible.”

A special event is planned in whatever community they’re in after each day’s ride. Whether it’s a picnic dinner, a fireside sing-along or a dance party, the fraternity brothers have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

“We’ve had many people with disabilities tell us that their favorite day of the year isn’t Christmas or their birthday but the day when we come into town,” says Mr. Campbell, a rising junior from Chicago in the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences.

The three teams will arrive in Washington on Saturday. They’ll gather together at Kogan Plaza and then ride together to the Capitol where their families and fraternity brothers will be waiting for them.

“I never expected this trip to have such an impact on me,” says Mr. Gadala-Maria. “I’ve pushed myself to limits I never thought was possible.”

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