Blake McGovern and John Edmond are junior members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity who decided to spend their summer cycling across the country in Journey of Hope.
For nearly 40 years, the Ability Experience, Pi Kap’s national philanthropy, has been raising money and awareness for people with disabilities. One of those opportunities includes Journey of Hope, a cross-country bicycle fundraiser.
For those who participate in it, the Journey of Hope provides a “once in a lifetime opportunity to go on an adventure, see the nation and help people all at the same time.”
The three routes of Journey of Hope start in San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; and Los Angeles, California, and end in Washington, D.C. The men bike over 12,000 miles through 32 different states.
To partake in the Journey of Hope as a cyclist, the rider needs to raise $5,500. McGovern found the fundraising to be easy, saying that “when people hear what you’re doing they want to give money to it.”
McGovern and Edmond were on the same team, along with Pi Kap alumni and students from Virginia Tech and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Journey of Hope is a challenging experience for participants, McGovern and Edmond said.
“You have to come up with the realization of giving up an entire summer, you have the challenge of biking across the country, the challenge of raising $5,500 in around a month and you also have to have the money to buy yourself a bike so it’s just like a lot of things you have to do so just signing up and committing is the hardest,” said McGovern.
Long miles and hot weather contributed to some of the harder aspects of the process, McGovern said.
“We were biking through Lamar, Colorado, it was a 120-mile day, it was super hot and just terrible. We got to where we were staying and it was in a high school wrestling room which was hotter in the room than it was outside and we couldn’t sleep at all,” said McGovern.
Lodging during the Journey of Hope is provided by volunteers. Often times teams spend the night on gym floors, church community rooms or hotels. Because participants are not always guaranteed a bed, Edmond’s advice is to “get a comfortable air mattress.”
Biking in the pouring rain into Union, Missouri and riding over two Mount Rainier passes were some of Edmond and McGovern’s favorite biking memories, but the friendship visits are what stuck out the most to the men.
Friendship visits are visits the teams make with people who have disabilities. During these visits, they get to talk to and do different activities with the people for whom they are fundraising.
“We were talking to this girl who was in a car accident and was mentally disabled and couldn’t walk anymore. With the grant that [the Ability Experience] gave [the organization] they bought a harness that she could sit in and it made it so she could walk again,” said McGovern. “She was able to walk out and say bye to us at the end and that was the most moving and coolest thing I saw. I saw the direct impact on what I was biking for.”
For Edmond, friendship visits were what gave him the energy he needed to make it through the day.
“The most challenging part was having to go to a visit an organization for people with disabilities after biking over 100 miles and having to be full of energy, but then once you get there everybody is so nice it is easy to do it. It helps you get through it,” Edmond said.
In 2016 the Ability Experience raised $625,901, said Ryan Foerstel, director of team services at the Ability Experience.
The TCU chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, Eta Chi, has consistently been one of the top fundraising chapters in the nation.
This week is TCU Pi Kap’s philanthropy week. The fraternity raised money for the Ability Experience during “Pi Kap Push Week” through T-shirt sales and a fundraiser at Potbelly Sandwich Works on Wednesday. For more information on the Journey of Hope, visit the Ability Experience’s website.