Ponnada: Cycling superhero

BY SRI PONNADA | MARCH 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. And we have one of own here at the University of Iowa — Katherine Strickland, a first-year student who will bike from one end of the country to another this summer in an effort to end injustice around the world.

In eight weeks in June, July and August, Strickland will cycle from Seattle to New York City. The cross-country tour is supported and planned by Venture Expeditions, a nonprofit that “empowers people to benefit the world and discover their souls through adventure-driven humanitarian efforts,” as stated on the organization’s website.

The money generated by the tour goes to Venture Expeditions’ on-the-ground local partners in Southeast Asia stopping oppression by providing such items as food, safe havens for abused women, education, and economic empowerment to those that may not have a voice in everyday life.

Strickland said it’s a simple idea — get a handful of passionate people to form a mobile community of cyclists to travel the country raising money for missions. She noted, though, that she’s no Lance Armstrong.

“I know nothing about biking,” she said. “What I do know is how powerful a demonstration of physical and emotional strength is in encouraging hope.”

However, there are some who question how much of a difference that her cause can make. Strickland said she had noticed that people sometimes just don’t get it.

“They understand on the surface what I’m trying to do, but don’t see the deeper meaning when it comes to sacrifice,” she said.

Biking to better the lives of oppressed people in another continent? That doesn’t sound too productive, huh? Guess what? It is — at least more than clicking “like” on a Facebook page or re-tweeting a KONY video, which most people find a lot easier and probably more practical to do.

“The problem with these types of campaigns is that they take exorbitant amounts of time and resources just to get on the road,” Strickland said. “We don’t all have eight weeks to dedicate to a grueling tour. But the powerful part is that is just takes 20 of us on the open road to get people to pay attention and stop thinking and feeling on autopilot.”

The people in Southeast Asia and other victims of oppression and injustice don’t want our charity. They want our compassion, and that’s exactly what Strickland and her companions are seeking to provide.

“Giving genuinely should inconvenience us somehow,” she said. “My part in this comes from my passionate desire to sacrifice physically to inspire others to sacrifice financially. I will bike more than 3,400 miles so that the communities we stop in along the route will feel the connection we share with people in need.”

In an age in which virtually every television channel and website is full of ads and links about orphans in Africa and disaster in Haiti, we have become somewhat desensitized to suffering. It’s sad to say, but the messages trying to be delivered often pass us by. The bike tour is a way to invest financially and emotionally in a message that you can’t ignore; that combination is the key to these causes’ success.

While we’re all in our homes eating chips and watching the Kardashians or doing some other pointless activity this summer, Strickland will fight oppression and make the world a better place.

We can’t all be Wonder Woman, but if you’d like to be a sidekick instead and help her cause, visit www.katiestricklandacrossamericatour.weebly.com.

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