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July 15, 2014

Pedaling Hope: Fraternity members crossing nation to raise fund, awareness for people with disabilities

TERRE HAUTE — After dismounting his bicycle Tuesday afternoon, Brandon Ratner, one of 19 cyclists for Pi Kappa Phi’s Journey of Hope, stretched his legs on the campus of Indiana State University after a 105-mile trek from Vandalia, Ill.

Ratner was one of seven cyclists to complete the entire leg, part of a 4,300-mile route from Seattle, Wash., to the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.

Journey of Hope is a program started in 1988 and is part of the national fraternity’s Push America, a program that began in 1977 to help raise finances for and awareness of people with disabilities.

“This is a unique part of the country for me,” said Ratner, who is studying business finance at California State University, Long Beach. “I think [Tuesday’s] ride really was one of the prettiest. I was surprised, because I had in my mind that Kansas would be the prettiest farmland, but from Vandalia (Illinois) to here, I thought was the prettiest farmland.

“It was gorgeous,” Ratner said. “Maybe it was the weather,” he chuckled, as Tuesday’s high was 71 degrees, cool for July in the Midwest, with low humidity and a gentle breeze. “Maybe that is why I was in such a good mood,” he said.

Watermelon and fruit, along with fruit popsicles, water and Gatorade, were given to the cyclists, who then ate lunch at ISU’s African American Cultural Center.

The fraternity brothers are part of the TransAmerica route, with 19 cyclists and nine support members for Journey of Hope. There also are north and south routes.

The riders stopping in Terre Haute have raised more than $170,000 so far, said Alex Maxwell, a spokesman for the riders. The three Journey of Hope routes combined have raised about $353,000.

The cyclists were scheduled to visit Happiness Bag for dinner, karaoke and a dance. ISU’s Student Recreation Center was to serve as their overnight accommodation.

Ratner said he became interested in the Journey of Hope as he was a Special Olympics coach in high school. “I knew I wanted to rush a fraternity going to college and this is something so unique … and I knew I would have to do it,” he said.

Ratner said cyclists burned 4,000 to 5,000 calories on Tuesday.

Preston Bell, a University of Southern Mississippi student, rides with a small camera attached to the top of his bicycle helmet. He downloads photos and video to his Facebook site at “Preston Bell’s Journey of Hope 2014.”

“If I see something cool, I will turn it on,” Bell said of the helmet-mounted camera. Bell is from Hattiesburg, Miss.

“It has been quite the trip. I have seen a lot of different stuff,” he said. The cyclists followed U.S. 40 and started about 6 a.m. Tuesday from Vandalia, Ill. They arrived in Terre Haute about 2 p.m.

“It took a lot of getting used to at first,” Bell said of the treks, some of which are as long as 130 miles, while others are as short as 35 miles. The cyclists are scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2.

Bell said he enjoys friendship visits with programs that serve the disabled. His favorite so far “is when we played wheelchair rugby in Fort Collins, Colo. You learn about what kind of things people with disabilities face to live,” Bell said.

As an example, “in Kansas we met a guy named Mark, who is a quadriplegic, who lives in a house and has really cool technology to do all the things that he does,” Bell said.

The cyclists today will travel to Indianapolis. To learn more about the Journey of Hope or to donate, visit www.pushamerica.org/journeyofhope.aspx.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.



 

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