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Students’ bike ride benefits people with disabilities

September 24, 2007

Pi Kappa Phi members are working to shatter the stereotype of fraternity members who are more concerned about partying than helping the community.

The members of the Theta Xi chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at ASU participate in a variety of charitable events as they strive to make a difference in the world. Young men of Pi Kappa Phi spend their summers volunteering for people with disabilities through Push America, an organization that was founded in 1977 by the Pi Kappa Phi national fraternity.

One of Push America’s key events is the Journey of Hope bicycle ride that covers 32 different states with members cycling more than 12,000 combined miles. The event’s goal is to spread a message of acceptance and understanding among the general public for people with disabilities.

ASU student Ryan Peters is majoring in justice studies, but his past as a Marine spurred his interest in the ride. He sustained knee, hip and leg injuries in 2002 while stationed in North Carolina.

“I’m in constant pain every day,” he says.

Although he would rather not talk about what happened, Peters gained a newfound respect for people living with disabilities after he was injured. When he participated in the ride this summer and muscled through an average of 80 miles per day, he thought about the people that he spent time with through friendship visits the day before.

“You think of the challenges that they have to go through and the smile that you put on that little girl’s face that day,” Peters says.
Bicyclists reached out to people with disabilities after each day’s ride by participating in visits that included games of wheelchair basketball, trips to local hospitals or dinners.

Those encounters helped Peters endure physical hardships during the ride and weather conditions that included intense heat, rain and tornado warnings.

“Heat was always an issue,” Peters says. “You had to find that extra strength to push through.”

ASU business management major Jeff Altieri was part of the CREW team on the Journey of Hope. He helped take care of riders by cooking for them and navigating their route as they rode across country. He got up every day at 5:30 a.m. to get breakfast ready, mark the day’s route and provide encouragement to riders along the way.

Altieri was continually inspired by the people he met during friendship visits.

“We learned so much,” he says, adding that one of the things that stuck with him is how much people with disabilities can accomplish.

“They are people first, and they have (many) abilities,” he says.

Riders and crew members reinforced this message by putting on puppet shows at local schools to expose children to people with disabilities and show them that they can accomplish many of the same things that other kids can.

The Journey of Hope comprised three teams of riders who began their treks in San Francisco and Seattle and ended Aug. 12, with all teams converging in Washington, D.C.

Peters and Altieri were on the northern route that started on June 10, passing through states such as Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

Money raised through Journey of Hope sponsorship dollars will be used to build ramps, provide wheelchairs, fund camps and schools and support other events. It’s an endeavor that left many of the participants appreciating their choice to spend the summer serving others.
“This trip was awesome,” Altieri says. “There is nothing else I would want to spend my summer doing.”

Other Push America programs include:

• Gear Up Florida, an 800-mile cycling event that raises more than $75,000 for people with disabilities.

• Build America, a six-week team event that starts in Cleveland and travels to different camps and communities to improve accessibility form people with disabilities through construction, dedication and hard work.

• Push Camp, which brings fraternity members to camps around the country to help make them accessible, and Pi Kappa Phi members participate as an alternative to spring break.

The Theta Xi chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at ASU also has held events on and off campus to contribute to Push America. The first Celebrity Bike-A-Thon was held March 27-28 and raised about $3,000. Plans also are under way for a No Boundaries week.