Cycling 800 miles for charity may seem like an extreme undertaking, but it’s exactly what USF Pi Kappa Phi brother Chris Cain did last month for a philanthropic cycling event held each summer.
Gear Up Florida is an event within Pi Kappa Phi’s larger philanthropic organization, The Ability Experience. There are two cycling events within the organization, Journey of Hope — a cross-country cycling expedition from the West Coast to the District of Columbia — and Gear Up Florida, an 800-mile ride throughout the state that starts in Miami and ending in Tallahassee, which Cain participated in.
As part of both events, cyclists go from city to city interacting with people from facilities and helping to improve their quality of life.
“The physical part of it was obviously very hard,” Cain said. “I guess for me the hardest part was actually opening up and kind of seeing people with disabilities.”
The goal is to foster awareness and compassion while raising money for those afflicted with a disability. Gear Up Florida raises between $60,000 and $80,000 annually. This year’s contribution totals $70,575, according to the organization’s website.
Cain narrowly surpassed his contribution goal of $2,500 by raising a total sum of $2,550 at the end of the trek.
“The reason I joined Pi Kappa Phi was because of the philanthropy,” Cain said. “I never really realize how in the dark I was. This trip really opened up my eyes to these people.”
Cain said the trip lasted 17 days with one day off in Tampa and another in Orlando. He said the heat was an obstacle but his biggest hurdle was overcoming a mental block to people living with disabilities.
“Even though it was the hardest part of the trip, I think it was my favorite part too,” he said. “They really opened my eyes to these people and everything they’re going through and how well-off a lot of us are.”
This year’s Gear Up Florida team included 23 cyclists, of whom Cain was the only student from USF to participate.
USF alumnus Andrew Coet participated in the longer Journey of Hope campaign across the U.S. during his senior year. The event includes three separate courses: TransAmerica, which begins in Seattle; North, which begins in San Francisco; and South, which Coet rode and begins in Los Angeles.
“Probably one of the hardest days would’ve been when we were riding through the desert and it was just brutally hot,” Coet said. “We had to push through that. It was very different than what we are used to in Florida.”
Journey of Hope earns a larger sum than Gear Up Florida with an average annual contribution of $500,000; and this year’s contribution was $525,161. Funds are usually gathered through online donations and fundraising drives the fraternity holds in the months leading up to the journey.
Journey of Hope also commands a larger fleet of cyclists with an average of 100 fraternity members participating annually.
“One of the days when we were in Las Vegas, Nevada, we partnered with a group and went to Wet N’ Wild waterpark with them,” Coet said. “We each got paired up with a different individual. The individual I got paired up with had ‘cat cry’ syndrome — she was not auditory. I was there communicating through minimalistic sign language. It was really a rewarding experience.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cat cry syndrome (also known as Cri-Du-Chat syndrome) is a genetic disorder that causes infants to have a high-pitched cry resembling a cat, hinders neurological development of the afflicted individual, and can cause the inability to hear or speak.
The money from Journey of Hope and Gear Up Florida helps fund research grants. According to The Ability Experience website, 15 percent of the funds gained are used in administrative fees and 85 percent is applied to grants.
The 2015 Journey of Hope teams, which will include USF student Noah Bolin, will ride through the months of June and July and are scheduled to arrive in the District of Columbia on Aug. 8.