“You are about to embark upon the great crusade for which we have striven for these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you… Your task will not be an easy one.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave this speech to American troops 75 years ago, right before they stormed Normandy Beach.
And those words were repeated last week, not to soldiers, but the men of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity as they were about to face their first real challenge as they bike across the country — climbing Mount Rainier.
This is the annual Journey of Hope, where members of the fraternity travel the United States in order to raise money for The Ability Experience, a nonprofit that raises money for programs that benefit people with disabilities. This is the ninth year the team has come through Enumclaw.
When they departed from the Calvary Presbyterian Church early in the morning last Thursday, the 23 cyclists were going to be biking 125 miles over the mountain, facing wet roads and cold winds before coming to a stop in Yakima, leaving them with just over 4,000 miles left to go before they reach Washington D.C. on Aug. 10.
This year, the men have raised more than $650,000 for The Ability Experience.
But for many, this trip is more than just forming close relationships with their fellow bikers or bringing awareness about disabilities wherever they go — they’re embarking on a personal odyssey.
“My mom, she used to do three-day breast cancer walks. Like, 60 miles. She was a servant leader, and she taught me how to serve, and I’m doing this in honor of her,” said Jared Meahring, a junior at the Washington State University. His mother beat breast cancer when he was young, but died from lung cancer a decade later. “I hope to learn a lot about people with disabilities — I’m a chem major with an interest in dentistry, so I want to be comfortable with people with disabilities so I can help them with dentistry, because they tend to have worse tooth decay.”
Ian Sundberg, who graduated from the University of Cincinnati last year, said he’s doing this for the community of people of all abilities he was a part of during his college years, but also for himself.
In high school, he was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, and, “Finding this philanthropy helped me see it as an ability rather than inability, more of a superpower that I could use to lead others,” Sundberg said.
Many Journey of Hope team members are keeping journals, and they have media staff following them as well. To check out their route or to read more about their experiences on the road, go to https://abilityexperience.org/programs/journey-of-hope/2019-team/ (the team that came through Enumclaw are on the TransAmerica route).
AN APPEARANCE AT ASHLEY HOUSE
Before their mountain climb, the bikers visited the local Ashley House for dinner and celebration.
This is the eighth year the nonprofit has hosted the Journey of Hope bikers.
“You won’t find a nicer, more wonderful group of young men,” said Ashley House Executive Director Ken Maaz. “They are truly dedicated to raising awareness about disabilities and to treating people with disabilities with respect, so it’s great for our kids and staff to meet such people.”
Maaz said he enjoys watching the bikers interact with the residents: one young boy was being pushed on the swing by a group of the fraternity members, while another young woman recognized a biker that participated in the ride last year, and they immediately re-engaged their friendly arm-wrestling competition (which she won handily).
Meahring said he had a ball with long-term resident Gilbert, who is an avid Seahawks fan.
“I think me and him were the only Seahawks fans in there, so we talked about the Seahawks and he talked about how he gets frustrated when Russel Wilson gets sacked too far back,” he said. “We just hung out and had a good time.”
The Ashley House recently moved, picking up from their 30-year home in Enumclaw to downsize to a new home at 30313 188th Avenue SE in Auburn, Maaz said.
But “we’ll always have our heart in Enumclaw,” he continued.
Ashley House will be celebrating its 30th anniversary on Nov. 14 at the Federal Way Art Center.