What is it like to pedal 4,000 miles, all the way from the West Coast to Washington, D.C.?
Ethan Collins knows. The Glenbrook North High School (GBN) graduate is currently midway through a 67-day cross-country ride as part of Push America’s Journey of Hope, an endeavor that raises funds and awareness for individuals with disabilities.
"We've been through deserts, mountains, plains, everywhere," said Collins. “It’s just been an unbelievable adventure.”
Collins, a 2008 GBN graduate, is a communication studies major at the University of Iowa, where he is president of its chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, a fraternity that does its community service exclusively with Push America.
The nonprofit uses the Journey of Hope, along with other events, to raise money for the disabled, having raised more than $15 million since it was founded in 1977.
Each member who joins the journey commits to raising $5,000.
“What makes their fundraising so crucial, and also so impactful, is that the money they raise before the trip goes directly back into organizations along their route,” said Adam Phillips, director of marketing for Push America.
Throughout their journey across the country, cyclists make “friendship visits” that involve stopping to present local organizations with grant checks from their efforts.
“They get to see exactly where all of their hard work goes,” Phillips said of the cyclists. “That’s what makes it so special for them, and helps to motivate them to go above and beyond their goals.”
Raising money for Push America has personal meaning to Collins, who worked for five summers at camps for children with disabilities. He set out to raise more than the mandatory $5,000 and made his fundraising goal $6,000. He has currently brought in $6,636.01.
Without the emotional and financial support of his parents, Collins said the trip wouldn't have been possible.
His mother, Kirsty, said her son has always dabbled in fundraising, but this was his biggest effort so far.
“This really spoke to him,” she said. “He knew this would be something challenging and meaningful.”
The trip has so far been not just an opportunity to help others but an experience of a lifetime, Collins said.
"We remind ourselves every day that we have the opportunity to ride by thinking of someone we ride for who can't ride," he said. "That's what keeps us going."
Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story included an incorrect figure for the number of miles Ethan Collins will bike this summer. The correct figure is roughly 4,000.