Journey of Hope pedals through Park City | ParkRecord.com

Journey of Hope pedals through Park City

Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers riding on the Journey of Hope pose for a photo at the National Ability Center, where they helped the organization prepare for the Fourth of July parade. The fraternity brothers are riding from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to raise funds for organizations that benefit people with disabilities -- a total of 3,700 miles.

Matthew JarrielArjun Kumar and Nikolas Merten would not have considered themselves strong cyclists a few months ago. But that's starting to change. The three are part of a group of 30 Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members biking cross-country for the organization's annual Journey of Hope — a philanthropic fundraiser and ride benefiting organizations that help people with disabilities.

Over the summer, the group is riding from San Francisco to Washington D.C. They recently pedaled through Park City and made a stop at the National Ability Center.

"I think almost none of us cycled before this," said Jerall, who attends Virginia Tech. "A lot of us got to the West Coast and stared doing more than 40, 50 miles for the first time."

Now they are regularly riding double that distance, putting in 100-mile days punctuated with what they call Friendship Visits at each town they stop in.

The cyclists say having a reason to ride helps motivate them to push their boundaries. Each day, the Christian fraternity group gathers for a prayer, then dedicates its ride to someone they have met along the way.

It's also motivating for cyclists to think about the amount of work they put into getting there — not just the miles spent in the saddle to physically get to the National Ability Center, but the time they spent planning and fundraising beforehand.

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Each cyclist had to raise nearly $5,000 to participate in the ride, which goes toward trip logistics and funding for grants to some of the organizations the group visits over its ride.

The riders said they contacted everyone they knew, from family and friends to former coaches and teachers.

"I had an email list of 300 people," Jerall said.

Despite the steep price of entry, Josh Hunter, a student at Iona College in New York and one of the ride's support crew, said the expedition was too intriguing to let pass.

"When you see a trip like that, it's eye catching automatically," he said. "For me it was something that was extremely impactful, that as young adults you don't always get that opportunity to do."

Hunter and the cyclists all had experience in service before joining the fraternity, and said joining it was a way to keep that in their lives.

Kumar, whose mother works in special education, said he grew up around people with disabilities, which played a big role in his decision to pursue occupational therapy as a career.

"So I've dedicated my life to serving people with different abilities, and this was the perfect opportunity to tour the country as well as following my passion," he said.

At the Friendship Visits, the fraternity brothers meet with people with disabilities, host dance parties or activities, and get to know them. During the stop at the NAC, the fraternity brothers met with people staying there and helped the organization prepare for Park City's annual Fourth of July parade.

"Everyday you get to meet new people and gain new perspectives on life," Kumar said.

Merten, who attends the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana, recalled a recent Friendship Visit in California.

"I don't know how many people were there, maybe over 100 people with disabilities," he said. "And they all came up and were shaking our hands and had Journey of Hope shirts and were asking for autographs and high fives," he said. "It was just crazy to see that sparkle in their eye. It was really rewarding."

Hunter said the most surprising thing about the Journey of Hope, which was started by a Pi Kappa Phi student in 1987, was that each year a group of students who have never met and aren't typically strong cyclists, ride across the country for a common goal.

"You wouldn't expect college guys to be able to pull something like that off, but it's been going on for the last 30 years," he said.