Though the Journey of Hope cyclists have only barely begun their cross-country bicycle ride that will take them from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., the riders have already experienced several life-changing moments.
A couple of those moments came in Park City on Monday. That day, the riders and their support staff visited the Utah Olympic Park and the National Ability Center, spreading their message and meeting with people of all ages and abilities along the way.
Rider Joshua Velasquez, a senior at Michigan State University, said he signed up through his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, the group that sponsors the Journey of Hope. He added that, even though the journey is still in its beginning stages, he's already learned a lot.
"Personally, what made me do this is inspiration inspiring other people to do great things," he said. "I like to say I'm an ordinary person doing something amazing. I think we can all do that."
Velasquez said one of the best things about JOH is that it doesn't require a person to have cycling experience in order to make the summer-long trip.
"On the team, there are people with different levels of cycling," he said. "There are people with cycling backgrounds that are really strong, guys that are moderate and guys that are learning. We're all coming together and I think everybody can do that. Whether it's people with disabilities or cancer research or anything like that I just want to see other people do great things.
Crew member Michael O'Connell (Bowling Green University), who also serves as the new media coordinator for the group and updates the organization's Twitter and Instagram accounts, said that while he loves seeing the sights in the mountains and everywhere else the group will travel before arriving in D.C. on Aug. 2, the friendship visits are the most important part.
"I don't know when I'm going to get out to Park City, Utah, to go to the Olympic Park again," he said. "It was really fun and we had a great time. I also feel like the friendship visits, every visit we do is different. That, for me, is what the real experience of JOH is about. It gives me an opportunity to see the world in a different way, maybe through the eyes of somebody who can't walk or has trouble sitting up for long periods of time or whatever it may be.
"It makes it a little easier for me to make it through my day when I'm a little stressed. It's like, well, I might be having a bad day today, but overall, my life is pretty good. I have certain abilities, why not use them to help other people who can't do certain things I can?"
Velasquez agrees, saying that it's all about the people the group meets along the way.
"When we get to meet these people, whether they're people suffering from disabilities or their family members or their caretakers, you learn something from everybody," he said. "The biggest thing I've learned from that is appreciation. I appreciate that I can get on the bike and ride across the country when some of these kids just wish they could ride their bikes across the street."
Velasquez added that he's going to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he's been given to raise awareness and money for people with disabilities.
"Personally, I think it's an honor to do this," he said. "It's an amazing opportunity. I never thought I'd do something like this and I probably never will again, so I'm trying to take it all in."