It's a long journey. But 30-year-old Journey of Hope's 3,745-mile cross-country trek by Pi Kappa Phi fraternity men is worth it.
"Members of my chapter last year described it as life-changing," San Diego native Andres Gomez said. "They also said it was really able to raise awareness. There was no way I could not be part of this."
He and more than 100 other men will bicycle about 75 miles daily beginning on various June dates to Saturday, Aug. 12, raising money for and bringing awareness to disabled people. The trek is organized by The Ability Experience.
They aren't professionals. Gomez said he hadn't really bicycled before signing up for the event last year.
"I don't have a big history of riding my bicycle," Gomez said. "But we train as a team and are ready to take it on together."
To prepare, Gomez said he began riding more, and trekked up part of Flagstaff Mountain's 6,983-foot height. He also biked with fellow fraternity members at his University of Colorado, Boulder, chapter, he said, who are taking other journey routes. He's part of the 28-cyclist, seven crew member South team — starting in Long Beach on Thursday, June 15. There are North and TransAmerica routes beginning in San Francisco and Seattle, Wash., respectively.
Additionally, he said he has friends at other universities who will be at the event's culmination in Washington, D.C.
"It's a shared experience," Gomez said. "And to show more ability rather than disability."
No California State University, Long Beach, fraternity members are riding this year, according to South crew member Connor Riggs, but they are helping facilitate Long Beach events, such as providing lunch to members in town gearing up to start.
"It was one of the most life-changing experiences I've ever been through," CSULB chapter member and journey alum Brian Schwartz said. "It really opened my eyes and gave me friends for a lifetime."
As far as eye-opening, Schwartz said he saw what disabled people go through, such as getting from one place to another with the journey's Friendship Visits along the route. The visits are meant to develop community friendships with those they are raising money for.
"They were some of the most happy people I've ever met in my life," Schwartz said. "It was inspiring to see what we (non-disabled) don't even think about."
Florida State University chapter member Chad Whitehead said his reason for riding was personal.
"A couple of years ago, someone on my lacrosse team suffered a stroke," Whitehead said. "Before, he was an unbelievable athlete... Helping out and raising money is something I chose to do. Hopefully we'll raise a lot of money."
So far, the journey's website reports it's raised about $653,140 — above its $650,000 goal. Each rider has raised their own money and others have contributed.
Whitehead said he raised about $9,000 so far and had no cycling experience before signing up.
"I was running and lifting like your average college student," Whitehead said. "But I've ridden over 1,300 miles since last summer and did a smaller trip similar to this in Florida."
But giving up his prior exercise routine was well worth it.
"I saw the potential for this team," Whitehead said.
To donate or for more information, visit www.abilityexperience.org.
Emily Thornton can be reached at email@example.com.