As an undergraduate, Omega (Purdue) alumnus Tim Smith had heard of the Journey of Hope but hadn’t had the opportunity to participate. As a passionate cyclist, he thought he had missed his opportunity to participate.
However, when the opportunity for alumni to be a part of the Journey of Hope team presented itself to Smith, he began exploring the very real possibility of putting his passion for cycling to work in the service of others.
“Two years ago, I started exploring it as a real possibility by talking with the folks at The Ability Experience,” Smith said. “I had narrowed in on doing it this year to celebrate turning 50 but decided that I didn’t want to miss my oldest daughter’s last summer at home. When I read about a woman doing a virtual marathon in her driveway because of the quarantine restrictions, I flipped my thinking and started focusing on how I could do something similar with the JOH.”
Smith’s dream of participating in the Journey of Hope and combining his experience as a cyclist with his commitment to equality and inclusion had been developing for years, but as a family man, the time had never been right until the necessary shift for Journey of Hope to become a virtual experience in 2020 was presented to him.
“While it’s still not realistic for me to ride 3,725 miles, the total distance of the North route which passes through many cities in which I have friends and family, in 10 weeks like the incredible young men that complete the JOH each year, I intend to ride that distance on the roads, trails and, if necessary, stationary bike this year, starting in May and hopefully finishing in late August,” Smith said.
Smith’s connection to The Ability Experience and the beginning of his Journey of Hope aspirations began in 2018 when he participated in the Bike the Drive event in Chicago in partnership with Envision Unlimited, a Chicago-based nonprofit which serves people with disabilities.
“Since that first ride in 2018, I’ve been an active volunteer and supporter of the Envision Unlimited Buddy Biking Program. The Buddy Biking Program promotes inclusion, fitness, teamwork, and community involvement through opportunities for program participants and volunteers to ride together on local trails and in local events. Last year, after many training rides on Chicago’s 606 trail, my buddy, Matthew, and I rode the entire 30-mile Bike the Drive route on a tandem bike with my son, Cooper. I hope that social distancing will end in time for Matthew to do some JOH rides with me this summer.”
Committed to service, Smith said that his desire to serve people with disabilities is driven by feelings he receives when he knows he has improved the world around him.
“I feel very fortunate,” Smith said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities and good luck throughout my life. I feel that it is important to pay it forward and do what I can to brighten other people’s lives. The funny thing is that the more I give, the more my own life is enriched. It’s a virtuous cycle.”
With a truly uncommon opportunity presented to him in the form of a virtual Journey of Hope, Smith understood how important his role as a Pi Kappa Phi is in serving people with disabilities as a team member during a time where connections are a scarce resource.
“People need us,” Smith said. “Many service organizations have had to pause or severely cut back on their programming. The communities that many people count on for friendship and support evaporated overnight and face uncertain futures. The men of Pi Kappa Phi have always been servants and leaders and we can be at the forefront of helping to rebuild and support these communities.”
Smith will not only be cycling at home and connecting with people with disabilities remotely, he has also committed himself to raise $10,000 for The Ability Experience, to which he and his wife, Judy, will match up to $10,000 as a donation to Envision Unlimited. While he’ll certainly be one of the oldest men to participate in the Journey of Hope, he is the embodiment of the lifelong commitment to service.
“Pi Kappa Phi is about lifelong commitment and The Ability Experience was founded on the idea of lifelong service,” Smith said. “While a lot of the programming is geared toward undergraduates, there are many opportunities, particularly through The Ability Experience Challenges, for alumni to stay involved, support the mission, and serve their local communities. Personally, I’ve found it much more rewarding to participate directly and form personal relationships like this than to only make a donation or attend a corporate service day. And remember, it’s never too late to make a difference.”