Learning, bonding and biking for a cause

Susan Pfannmuller – Special to The Star

But none of that mattered when the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity brothers stepped into the Inclusions Connections activity center in Olathe on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Smiling faces and enthusiastic cheers greeted them, reminding the cyclists their cross-country journey was not about the ride, it was about hope.

The 28 men Ñ all members of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity chapters from across the nation Ñ are cycling from Seattle to Washington, D.C., this summer on behalf of The Ability Experience: a Journey of Hope, a fundraising and awareness event. Each year, the ride raises more than half a million dollars to support programs that help people with disabilities. During the trip, the cyclists will make 47 stops to visit with disability-related organizations. In Olathe, the fraternity brothers spent a peaceful afternoon hanging out with members from Inclusion Connections, a nonprofit organization that serves Johnson County teenagers and young adults with disabilities. Talking, playing board games and tossing around a basketball with teenagers were the little moments the cyclists knew they would treasure the most from their journey, they said.

Joel Blankenship, a junior studying political science at Kansas State University, gave up the opportunity to pursue congressional internships this summer to go on the ride. “I’m a different person now,” he said. “Something changes you during this trip. Meeting people and hearing their stories opens up an entire world you didn’t even realize exists.” When the college students pedaled into Olathe, they were simply expecting a place to put up their feet for a few days. Instead, the city rolled out the red carpet. The cyclists received a police escort to the Olathe Community Center, where cheering fans, city officials and even the Olathe Fire Department greeted them.

They were given passes for the recreational facility, free haircuts and massages, and a proclamation from the mayor. They also received a tour of the Garmin headquarters. The Kansas School for the Deaf offered comfortable lodging for a couple of nights. The Olathe festivities were sponsored by the city’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board. “I’m proud of the welcome we received here,” said Blankenship, who is from the Wichita area. “Rolling in after a hot day and seeing all the people cheering really lifted our spirits. It shows the other guys Kansas is a great state.” That’s not the only thing the Sunflower State had to offer the cyclists.

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