Push America pedals on for disabled | ParkRecord.com

Push America pedals on for disabled

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

They call it a summer of service, but to watch and listen to the men involved, Pi Kappa Phi’s yearly Journey of Hope goes a lot farther than that.

The fraternity’s self-sustaining charity, Push America, takes groups of dedicated men as far as they can go – across the country for 63 days, with numerous stops along the way, to make a difference.

"Anyone willing to give up their summer must have a really big heart," said rider Trey Flowers," a recent Texas Christian University (TCU) graduate.

Push America’s Journey of Hope was started 20 years ago to support the group’s mission of disability awareness. The ride includes daily bike treks through the country, puppet shows to teach children about disabilities and meetings with disabled Americans to build friendship and respect.

The Journey of Hope includes three groups riding different routes from the Northwest to Washington, D.C. Combined they are raising $500,000 to benefit Push America, which, besides the summer ride, runs disability-related programs throughout the year.

The North Route group made its usual stop in Park City early this week, taking time to work with the Park City Recreation Day Camp and meet with disabled individuals at the National Ability Center (NAC). The team includes 24 riders and seven crew members.

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According to rider Josh McNamara, another recent TCU graduate, the cyclists are generally encouraged to train diligently and ride about 1,000 miles before the journey begins. They are also required to individually raise $5,000 for the trip. The ride allows the men to get to see parts of country that they might not have ever visited and test their stamina and strength, says public relations coordinator Nick Kulik, a junior from Bowling Green State University.

But the ride isn’t just about the ride. McNamara says that each morning, the cyclists and crew circle up and offer up a "Disability of the Day," where one participant tells the story of a family member or friend touched by a certain disability. The intent is to take that example and use the strength of that disabled person to pull them through the struggles and rough riding the day may bring.

"As we’re going up those hills, we’re thinking about that person," McNamara said.

The camp visit, includes the "Kids on the Block," show, which uses soft, friendly puppets to teach young children about various disabilities. The brothers rotate their duties as characters on different days, but they all get a chance to participate. The show includes three acts, featuring different disabilities with breaks in between to allow the children a chance to ask questions.

"It’s important to teach the kids about people with disabilities, because they are people with abilities," said Flowers. "We make sure it’s done right."

The "Friendship Visit," at the NAC included dinner and a chance for the fraternity brothers to learn about adaptive recreation programs and interact with disabled populations.

"It puts perspective in our eyes," Kulik said. "You sit down and talk with people."

"I think that’s what’s so great," agreed Flowers. "We can all learn how to treat each other better."

Those that don’t ride or carry out administrative duties serve their time as crew members. They drive vans in front of and behind the riders and make sure they are all safe and accounted for. They also provide them with needed water and energy bars and rack their bikes at night. Arizona State University brother Jeff Altieri got involved with the ride too late to train, so he decided to become a crew chief and support a fellow ASU member Brad Peters in his cycling.

"As crew chief, I’m making sure these guys can finish what they started," Altieri

said. "If they can’t ride, they can’t make it to their friendship visits."

Altieri has already been impressed by his experiences and is considering returning as a rider next year.

"Every guy will come back as a different person," Altieri said. "You understand why guys want to ride. You figure it out real quick."

According to Kulik, Push America is hands-down the biggest selling point to joining the fraternity. Once young men learn that Push America is the only fraternity with a self-sustaining charity and sponsors programs and the ride every year, they are generally sold.

"It definitely sets the fraternity apart," Kulick said.

Each group includes men from schools all over the map that meet for the first time in their departure city, which for the North group was San Francisco, Calif. Kulik says that it takes virtually no time for the group to bond, as the closeness and dedication to the mission brings them together quickly.

"Even the little things, you get over them," Kulik said. "We all realize we’re here for someone else. Its amazing."

He adds that those who commit to the journey have the desire to put a lot of extra effort into their fraternity and the broader community.

"We’re all guys that want to make a difference," Kulik said.

Flowers has actually been indoctrinated fully into charity riding. This fall he is planning to complete a Multiple Sclerosis Society 150-mile ride.

"It’s contagious, for sure," said the Memphis, Tenn. native.

For more information about Push America’s charity and the Journey of Hope, visit http://www.pushamerica.org.