For the first two weeks the team sweated out 100-plus degree temperatures. When the weather finally cooled, the rain started. But Fitzgerald, 20, and the others are clearly having the times of their lives on an adventure that’s scheduled to end Aug. 13 in Washington, D.C. Fitzgerald just finished his sophomore year at the University of Washington where he is majoring in business finance. He’s a member of Pi Kappa Phi, a fraternity that stages a cross-country bike ride called the Journey of Hope.
When he heard about the ride, which raises money for people with disabilities, he and two fraternity friends signed up. He was required to raise $5,500 for Pi Kappa Phi’s charity, The Ability Experience. So far, he’s raised more than $7,300. In total, there are almost 100 fraternity members biking three different routes across the country. They bike about 75 miles per day and stop regularly for friendship visits. The visits could be dinner, visiting a waterpark with disabled kids, a wheelchair basketball game or another activity.
“The friendship visits are the purpose of the trip,” Fitzgerald said.
Earlier this month, Fitzgerald stopped pedaling in Grants, New Mexico, long enough to answer a few questions.
Q: What sort of training went into this?
A: We (Fitzgerald and the two other UW cyclists) all held each other accountable. There were days where we wanted to sleep in, but we’d wake each other up before class, before work and go on 30-, 40-, 50-mile rides.
That got us relatively prepared, but you can’t really train for weather. It got our legs ready.
Q: Where does the money you raise go?
A: It goes in grants back to some of the organizations we visit along the way that help people with disabilities.
Q: So you play wheelchair basketball at some of these stops. How hard is that?
A: We rode into Las Vegas and we were greeted by the mayor and people from the community center. We started playing (wheelchair basketball) with some of the guys. They just destroyed us. I think we scored twice and they got like 40-something. They took it easy on us at the end.
We are playing again in Dallas against an Olympic-level team. I heard last year we didn’t even score against them. It’s hard.
Q: Do you all stick together on the road or split up?
A: We split into pace lines of three and draft off of each other. We try to average at least 15 mph. We leave early and try to go as fast as we can to beat the heat.