Biking charity visits Paducah
by Christian Marnon
In May, a group of fraternity brothers from Western Kentucky mounted their bikes in Oceanside, California, beginning the first leg of a 3,000-mile journey across the country.
Twelve members of WKU’s Phi Gamma Delta(or FIJI) traversed the pine-oak woodlands of San Diego County, pedaled through the crosswinds and static plains of Kansas, endured the baking deserts of Arizona, and scaled an 11,000-foot-high pass in Colorado.
Since 2010, WKU FIJI has embarked on similar cross-country biking treks. The riders and route may vary with each trip, but the goal of the ride remains the same—to raise money for Alzheimer’s and find the elusive cure for a prevalent disease.
The philanthropy is called “Bike4Alz.” Through all past rides, FIJI has collectively raised $121,000. This year, they have already met their goal of $100,000, which will be donated to the BrightFocus Foundation.
The “Bike4Alz” group rolled through Paducah yesterday as part of a Kentucky route that covers Louisville, Bowling Green, and Morehead. BikeWorld co-owner Martha Emmons reached out to the group, who arrived at her store clad in Alzheimer’s purple, some riders pinkened by the sun.
Emmons said she learned of Bike4Alz from her daughter, Chandler, who attends WKU and is friends with several riders. When Emmons learned of the Bike4Alz cause, she invited the group for an overnight stay in Paducah, enlisting the help of local families to take them in. Emmons said she sent emails to several friends who “love bicycling, have a couple extra beds and want to exude Paducah hospitality.”
“When we heard they were coming to Paducah, we wanted to show them a really nice time,” Emmons said. “When they get back to their home state, we should give them a nice welcome and make them really feel like they’re back home.”
WKU senior and Bike4Alz rider Ryne McMullen said the group has felt at home not just in Paducah, but throughout their journey.
[The hospitality] started on the very first day when we biked to a place called Julian California,” McMullen said. “We get there and there is a church camp we’re staying at. They left out a huge, huge dinner for us. Ever since then everyone’s mostly taken us in no problem. We’ve been extremely fortunate with the people along the way that take us in, feed us, and give us a place to stay.”
Including the Kentucky route, close to 1,000 miles still remain for the 2014 Bike4Alz ride. Virginia, West Virginia must be crossed before the group reaches Washington D.C. on July 18. McMullen said their passage through Kentucky is often the fundraising apex.
“We’ve pretty much hit our goal of $100,000, but now we’re trying to up our donate-able funds to see what we can do,” McMullen said. “For the past two trips, Kentucky has raised the most money [for us].”
When Bike4Alz 2014 began in Oceanside, California this year, many riders had yet to travel by bike more than 30 miles at a time. To keep pace with their schedule, Bike4Alz participants must travel an average of 75 miles per day. WKU Junior and Bike4Alz rider Parker Kuhn said that mileage is sometimes coupled with difficult terrain.
“The first day was one of our hardest,” Kuhn said. “We climbed more than we ever climbed in our lives. As we kept going through Colorado, that was our peak. The elevation change on our bodies was really hard, not only our legs, but also breathing the mile-high air up there. Then we descended into Kansas and it was flat. There, the problem was the wind—the crosswinds were tough.”
McMullen said physical challenges are ancillary to the many rewards gained from combating Alzheimer’s and traveling the country.
“It’s just been an amazing experience,” McMullen said. “We’ve met so many great people. It’s just amazing how many lives we’ve already touched—it’s very tangible. We’re really appreciative that everyone’s supported us and we’re already feeling the support in Kentucky. None of us are from Paducah, but we’re already feeling support here and that’s only going to be greater when we visit the places we’re from.”