PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Fraternity brothers ride across U.S. for the disabled

  • They are 28 men on a mission to cross America on bicycles and help those with disabilities.

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  • They are 28 men on a mission to cross America on bicycles and help those with disabilities.
    The Journey of Hope, organized by Push America, features three teams of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity members from across the United States traveling on bicycles from the east coast to Washington D.C. in an effort to raise $560,000 for the disabled in America.
    Three teams of riders, one from Seattle and two from San Francisco, will spend two months traveling 4,000 miles over three different routes and will meet on the Capital steps in Washington D.C. on August 13. Each rider has to pledge to raise $5,000 to participate in the ride, said Axel Holm, public relations crewmember.
    The Seattle team arrived in Pratt Wednesday and joined Arrowhead West clients and staff for a meal, games and some Karaoke at the Pratt Teen center. They shared some special moments as clients and riders enjoyed their time together, Holm said.
    The riders were treated to a steak supper including homemade ice cream at Ninnescah Archers along with some time shooting at the various targets. The group camped out in the Municipal Building overnight before heading to Wichita early Thursday morning
    Holm said the group includes 22 cyclists and six support drivers. The group has traveled 2,100 miles to reach Pratt and will travel another 2,000 miles before their trip is done. Besides reaching Washington D.C. on August 13, the group has a larger goal.
    “We are traveling to raise awareness for the disabled,” Holm said.
    Derrick Bessaoud, the oldest rider at 24 and from Georgetown, Mass., had no intentions of joining a fraternity when he was in college but when a friend invited him a meeting at Pi Kappa Phi he heard a presentation for Push America and he instantly wanted to take part.
    He has found it to be an unforgettable experience and has met some wonderful people as he travels across the county.
    “I wanted to do something bigger than me,” Bessaoud said. “We learn more from them than they learn from us.”
    As he travels it doesn’t matter if they have covered 120 miles in over 100 degree heat, when the group arrives they are met with people who are happy to meet them and that gets him going. Everyone he has met has been so generous.
    “It’s been a very humbling experience,” Bessaoud said.
    While the people are uplifting, the bicycle riding is a challenge. He had not ridden a bicycle in 12 years so he started training. It took a big adjustment but he has seen some spectacular scenery from Mt. Rainer, now on his cell phone, through the Cascades, Idaho, Montana and Yellowstone.
    The Arrowhead West Clients in Pratt have a great time when Push America comes for their annual visit. The clients remember the riders that have been in Pratt before and remember their names.
    Page 2 of 2 - Client Aaron Marsh said it was a good experience to talk with the riders and he enjoys their visits.
    “I like them,” Marsh said.
    Arrowhead West will receive about $700 from Push America. In the past they have used the money to purchase lawn furniture for their Pratt facilities, said Cassandra Fisher, Arrowhead West public relations coordinator.
    Most of the staff at Arrowhead West is female so it brings a new perspective when all these young males come and talk with the clients.
    “I just can’t say enough good things about Push America,” Fisher said.
    This is Wes Clarkson’s second trip. He was in Pratt last year as a rider and now is crew chief. He makes sure everyone gets from point A to point B, prepares food, insures cyclist safety and is in charge of any emergency situation.
    Years from now when he looks back on this, he will never forget the people, the country and the riders.
    “When I’m 75 years old I will remember Arrowhead West,” Clarkson said.
    Clarkson enjoys the responsibility but he misses being a rider and being able to just shut his brain off and open his eyes to see the country and the people.
    The groups travel an average of 75 miles a day starting early in the morning and leaving at sunrise to get the travel portion of the day out of the way before the temperature gets too hot.
    In the afternoon the group has a Friendship meeting with a group of disabled Americans and enjoy some quality time together.
    Started in 1977 Push America and Pi Kappa Phi have raised over $15 million.
    The trip has a powerful impact on each of the riders and Clarkson summed it up for all of them.
    “If I never do anything else extraordinary in my life at least I did this,” Clarkson said.
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