Iowa senior biking almost 4,000 miles for charity

BY BEN SCHUFF | JULY 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Ethan Collins is riding his bike across the country for those who can’t. The 20-year-old Iowa senior is participating in Journey of Hope, a coast-to-coast trek to raise awareness and money for people with disabilities.

“Each day, we pick someone to ride for,” Collins said. “And the people we choose to ride for, we choose to ride for them because they can’t.”

The 79 cyclists riding in Journey of Hope are all members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, but Collins is the only UI student in this year’s event.

Journey of Hope is an annual event that began in 1988. The event is organized by Push America, an organization operated by members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

In order to participate, each rider must raise at least $5,000; Collins said he has raised $6,600.
Riders could take one of three different routes across the country. All three began on the West Coast on June 8, with two starting in San Francisco and one in Seattle. The routes wind roughly 3,800 miles, and will finish in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 13.

Collins said he travels approximately 80 miles per day on average, a distance he said can be wearing.
“It’s pretty exhausting,” he said. “Many of us are not cyclists — most of us are college guys. I purchased my bike in January and have been training ever since.”

At every possible destination along the way, the bikers stop at a local center that helps people with disabilities. The stops are called friendship visits, and Collins said each visit has created its own memorable experience.

“What we’ll do is stop, and maybe do a barbecue, or put on a puppet show, or do a dance party,” he said. “Basically, we get a chance to hang out with the people who we’re trying to serve and get to know more about their abilities, not just their disabilities.”

Earlier this week, Collins’ route stopped in Park City, Utah, at the National Ability Center. The group of fraternity brothers presented the center with a grant of $750. Collins said that is roughly the normal amount he and the guys give to every center at which they stop along the ride.

During the visit at the National Ability Center, the group had a chance to experience what life would be like with a disability. Each cyclist was given the chance to ride one of the center’s adaptive hand cycles, a bike peddled by the rider’s arms and hands instead of his legs and feet.

“I think that was a highlight for them, just to see how people would use bikes because of a different disability, a spinal-cord injury, or different things where individuals have to use that type of equipment,” said Ben Hulin, an AmeriCorps volunteer at the center.

Both Collins and fellow Journey of Hope rider Chris Anger said the friendship visits and stops along the way give them motivation when they get tired.

Anger, who graduated from Virginia Tech this past spring, said the experiences on the ride are always meaningful, regardless of whether the members are meeting children or people with disabilities.

“For the kids, it’s to help change the stereotypes that [exist] about people with disabilities,” Anger said. “[People with disabilities] more or less teach us when we spend time with them. They’re … teaching us and helping us grow as people.

“Hopefully, we can go on ahead and spread that word — that you can’t really say if someone has a disability. That [word] really doesn’t mean much of anything.”

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