By Chelsea Martin
A prime example of such commitment to exceeding the limits is Push America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, founded in 1977 by the members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, who made a lifelong commitment to their exclusive philanthropy, Push America. Their goal: to instill lifelong service among the fraternity members and, as a collateral benefit, to serve individuals with disabilities.
Inspired by one man’s triumphant venture on his bike across the country, Push America formed the largest known fundraising and awareness event called Journey of Hope in 1987.
The event has grown markedly each year to spread disability awareness to millions of people. What started with a small team of 21 raising $20,000 has now expanded into three different routes, raising nearly $800,000 last year alone.
Journey of Hope is a cross-country bicycle trek that began this year on June 15 in San Francisco (north route), Long Beach (south route), and Seattle (TransAmerica Route), with all routes due to come together in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 10.
Journey of Hope not only pushes the mental limits of young men in the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity to accomplish their journey but raises funds and awareness for people with disabilities, working hand in hand to make new friends and change lives.
This year the south route team is comprised of 33 members—23 cyclists and 10 crewmembers. It’s a tightly knit team, its members often referring to each other as one big happy family.
An eclectic mix of Pi Kappa Phis, it includes two cyclists from the ASU chapter, Trevor Young and Derek Hurtado.
“We put up a map and asked the guys to put a tack where they were from. It practically covers the entire continental United States: Arizona, Washington, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, Ohio are just some,” said Mike Petko, Journey of Hope project manager.
In order to qualify for the journey, each cyclist has to be an active member or alumni of Pi Kappa Phi. Each had to raise $5,500.
The readiness of the cyclist varies due to the erratic commitment dates. “Some are signed up eight months before takeoff; others eight days,” Petko said.
A typical day for the team comprises an average 80-mile bike ride, a sponsor’s warm and welcoming meal, and a friendship visit out in the community. The team will conquer 12 states and 4,000 miles of winding paths by the time its members arrive at their destination. There are six support vans in total. Five are spaced out every 10 miles, in between groups of cyclists. Petko’s van shoots ahead after the cyclists are released to meet with the next sponsors and prepare for the cyclists arrival.
“This route is one of the biggest challenges because it is mentally and physically exhausting, reaches some extremes and conditions, and a lot of the guys aren’t used to this dry heat,” Petko explained.
The south route cyclists never forget why they’re out there accomplishing the task at hand. They say their thoughts are filled with appreciation and determination for those who would, if physically capable, kill to be in their shoes. Each day, the team chooses one individual to dedicate the ride to.
It could be anyone.
Some days it’s a friend from the night before whose actions in some way impacted the team. For others it’s a friend of a friend who was injured in a car accident. No matter who, the team considers that person their key motivation for the long ride ahead.
“While you’re riding, it’s great to think of the person to whom the ride is dedicated to help you keep going, to push you to mentally and physically to finish those last 60 miles of the day,” Hurtado said.
The intense ride may seem impossible to some, but to the team it’s only impossible without each other.
“It’s something I couldn’t do alone. Every day you have a different guy pushing you, biting at your heels to make sure you finish the ride,” Young said. “For us, it’s pushing our own abilities to the limit in a way that none of us have done before.”
It’s a bond unlike any other.
“You cycle, sleep, eat, cry, laugh, bleed—and it’s all with each other,” Petko said.
“It’s crazy because you’ve never had to rely on somebody so much in your life.”
The team never stops moving because the members are driven by a genuine sense to help those around. Once they refuel with food, they move on to a community-friendship visit, where they interact with individuals with disabilities.
Activities involved in the visits include wheelchair basketball, arts and crafts, and therapeutic horseback riding.
“The term ‘friendship visits’ basically sums up why we’re out there doing what we’re doing, which is to hopefully change a life and to make a new friend each day,” Petko said.
“Every single day is a successful one if you’ve made a new friend.”
Appreciation for the camaraderie of the team, the kind and generous sponsors, the new friends, and the overall opportunity for this experience is more than obvious in each and every one of the Pi Kappa Phi members.
“I can’t believe I’m doing something I never thought I would, all the while helping a cause I hold dear to my heart.”
Photo by Chelsea Martin