After pedaling about 3,000 miles from San Francisco, the bicyclists of Push America -- Journey of Hope rode onto the University of Toledo campus Wednesday to cheers, handshakes, and a surprise appearance from Mayor Mike Bell.
The 30 cyclists, all brothers of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity from universities around the United States, are 57 days into a cross-country ride to raise money for Push, a nonprofit organization that serves people with disabilities and has a long history in the Toledo area.
While in town Wednesday, the brothers teamed up with Sylvania-based Boy Scout Troop 87 and summer camp participants from Sunshine, a local center serving disabled people, to build awareness and spend time with members of the community for which they ride.
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"They're just cream-of-the-crop volunteers," said Douglas Siebenaler, the administrator who established Sunshine's partnership with Push back in 1983. "These guys are willing to give their hearts and all to people with disabilities and to raising awareness for people with disabilities."
Pi Kappa Phi established Push America in 1977, and it remains the fraternity's exclusive philanthropic organization. It began by raising money for handicapped-accessible play units, one of the first of which went to Sunshine in 1983. Push returned to the Sunshine center three times with volunteers and tens of thousands of dollars in donations, building a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and barn on the property.
A Bowling Green State University fraternity brother first cycled across America to raise money in 1987, starting the fund-raising ride that's passed through Toledo each year since.
This year, the cyclers spent the afternoon at UT, playing basketball and soccer with the campers and scouts, kicked off with an impromptu rendition of the national anthem. Then, with the scouts' assistance, they read stories about handicapped children to students at the Apple Tree Nursery school.
"I have a strong appreciation for people with disabilities, and I can't think of a better way to give back than to just be with them," said Jameson Lowery, a Pi Kappa Phi brother from Miami University of Ohio, as sneakers squeaked and basketballs thumped behind him.
To participate in the nine-week, 4,100-mile ride from San Francisco to Washington, participating cyclists must submit an essay and recommendations, and pledge to raise $5,500. Once on the road, the brothers rise each morning at 6:30 and ride for about six hours, averaging 75 miles per day. They spend each night in a different city, volunteering with a local disabilities center during their stay.
The early mornings and long rides, Mr. Lowery said, have gotten easier with time. And, to ease their tired muscles, Toledo businesses and individuals also provided the brothers with several unique perks: free laundry service, massages, and a thank-you breakfast cooked by the Boy Scouts.
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