Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Cross-country cyclists stop by before tour finale

Journey of Hope riders raise money for people with disabilities

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J. Adam Fenster/The Gazette
Cyclists from the Journey of Hope, a cross-country bicycle tour geared to raise money for people with disabilities, pedal toward the Landon School in Bethesda on Friday. The group spent the night at the school before riding into Washington, D.C., on Saturday for a closing ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

About 20 spandex-clad fraternity brothers descended on the Landon School in Bethesda on Friday for the final leg of the Journey of Hope, a bicycle tour that has taken the group across the country in an effort to raise money for people with disabilities.

Altogether, three tours of cyclists totaling more than 60 riders have made their way across the country, covering 4,000 miles and nine weeks this summer, starting in Seattle and San Francisco, taking different routes across America. The Landon group, which took a northern route across the nation, slept on portable mattresses in the school's gym for the last time together before cycling their way down into Washington, D.C., for a closing ceremony, together with the other two tours, at the U.S. Capitol.

"It's a real homecoming for me," said Steve Golden of Brookeville, a public relations crew member for the north leg of the Journey of Hope. "It's where I was born and raised."

Friday, the group toured through Potomac along River Road before hanging a left on Wilson Lane and arriving at the school. Bikes were leaned in neat rows against the interior of the gym's walls as the mattresses and gear were brought in from vehicles that traveled alongside the group.

Across the country, space for the group to spend the night is usually donated by schools or churches in the community, such as Landon, Golden said. "Every city we go to, we rely on the generosity of people to help us out."

The tour is geared to raise money for Push America, a philanthropy group associated with the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity that raises money and awareness surrounding disabilities. Along the way, the college-age men have stopped for "friendship visits" at centers for people with disabilities.

"That's been the best part about it," said Jason Lewris, 21, of Great Falls, Va., a student at James Madison University. "We got to see all these organizations that support people with disabilities, and even if the day was tough, you just forget all about it when you go to these friendship visits."

The visits have included meeting children who have suffered trauma in accidents at the Cleveland Clinic, to playing wheelchair ice hockey at the Pettit National Ice Center, a U.S. Olympic training center in Milwaukee.

"Even though this is a person that has disabilities, we would like to focus on the abilities of that person," said Golden. "Just because you're in a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't play hockey."

This year, the Journey of Hope has raised $500,000 for Push America, money to be issued as grants to centers that support people with disabilities. The effort was started in 1987 by Bruce Rogers, who rode his bike solo across the country, raising a few thousand dollars for Push America. The following year, 1988, would mark the beginning of the Journey of Hope as a group fundraising event. Now in its 20th year, the event has included more than 900 undergraduates from across the country.

"The most amazing thing so far has been when you go to a friendship visit and they tell you that the kids have been looking forward to this since the last visit, almost a year ago," said cyclist John Gardner, 20, of Kansas. "It makes them have a great day when you show up."