Monday, May 19, 2008

New column every Monday--May 19, 2008

From The Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, May. 19, 2008
Fraternity brothers ride with purpose: charity

Phillip Hamilton will never forget meeting Kevin, a 3-year-old boy who could not hold himself up or walk until he had a breakthrough moment while Hamilton and his fraternity brothers were visiting his clinic a year ago.

''I saw him take his first steps ever,'' Hamilton said Sunday morning before kicking off an 800-mile cycling trip from Miami to Tallahassee aimed at raising funds and awareness for people with disabilities.

Gear Up Florida is one of several events put on across the country by Push America, a philanthropic organization established by Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Hamilton is a brother at the Florida International University chapter.

Cyclists will travel an average of 70 miles per day for two weeks, passing through citrus fields and major cities, reaching both the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast before ending up in the state capital.

Along the way, the team will make friendship visits and give donations to local organizations that serve people with disabilities -- what most members say is the most moving aspect of the trip.
''Friendship visits are the key to the trip, where we get to visit kids with disabilities and they help us to understand that kids with disabilities are just really kids with abilities,'' said Trey Flowers, 23, a cyclist from Texas.

Like Hamilton, many Gear Up participants are touched by the kids they've met and can retell their accomplishments without missing a beat. Hamilton worked as a crew member for the cross-country ride last year, and began training in November for his first cycling trip.
''I had such an amazing time . . . touching so many people's lives,'' Hamilton said. ``So I thought why not make a difference in my home state?''

This is Alex Ravelo's second time working with the Gear Up crew, which travels alongside the bikers in vans transporting their belongings, food and medical supplies.
Ravelo, also of the fraternity's FIU chapter, said he loved ``meeting the people with disabilities and making them smile for a few hours.''

It was stories like these that inspired Andres Peñalver, 20, to sign up as part of the crew.
''Some of my older brothers had done this, and they told me what a great experience they had,'' Peñalver said. ``It's a privilege.''

The team of 29 cyclists and seven crew members gathered at dawn Sunday in front of the Panther Hall dormitory at FIU to stretch and have breakfast before the trip. Their first stop: Clewiston, a small Florida town 90 miles north of Miami.

Smoke and haze from the Everglades wildfire lingered in the air as the bikers prepped for their first day, which also threatened to bring record high temperatures.

Organizers said they would use caution with the smoke and heat, but ride on nonetheless. ''I'm pretty sure the smoke will exhaust them, so we have to be careful,'' said Cody Bourque, the public relations coordinator for Gear Up Florida. ``But nothing's going to stop us from getting to Clewiston.''