King of the road: Pitt student bikes cross-country for charity

By Gwenn Barney

Andrew King pushed his legs against the bike pedals as sweat streaked down his face from beneath… Andrew King pushed his legs against the bike pedals as sweat streaked down his face from beneath his helmet. The blazing sun hovered above the team of 33 Pi Kappa Phi brothers as it made its way across the 110 miles of desert highway between Austin, Nev. and Eureka, Nev.

And this was only day 12 of the team’s 68-day trip.

King, a senior at Pitt, is one of 100 Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members nationally taking part in this summer’s 25th annual Journey of Hope. As a team member for the Journey of Hope, King will bike from San Francisco, Calif. to Washington, D.C. between June and August to raise funds for people with disabilities.

Two other teams riding in the event began their routes in Seattle and Los Angeles respectively, eventually converging with King’s team on the route to the nation’s capital.

To date, King has collected $8,680 from family and friends in support of his ride. The cross-country bike trip is organized by Push America, a non-profit organization spawned from Pi Kappa Phi in 1977 that raises funds for the disabled.

Never an avid biker, King decided around Thanksgiving that he would participate in the Journey of Hope this summer.

“I kind of saw it as the last time I could possibly do it before I graduate,” King said in a phone interview during some rare down time in Denver. “Helping out with Push America on campus, I wanted to do something more.”

For King, something more meant beginning fundraising efforts and a strict training regimen. To take part in the cross-country ride, applicants must raise a base of $5,000 for Push America and prove that they are fit enough to complete a 12,000-mile bike ride across 32 states.

To raise the minimum fundraising quota, King turned to his home of Uniontown, Pa.

Sean Zajdel, president of Pitt’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter, said that King created excitement in his hometown for his trip.

“He got his whole town involved,” Zajdel said. “A bunch of different articles went out about it. Different reporters interviewed him.”

Getting the hang of long-distance biking was a new hurdle for King. As a former offensive lineman on his high school football team, his athletic history was more based on building strength than endurance.

“I pretty much quit riding bikes when I turned 15 and got a car,” King said.

Much of King’s training took place on Pitt’s campus and the surrounding area. During school, he rode the stationary bikes in the Petersen Events Center on weekdays, and on weekends he would take to the hilly Pittsburgh terrain for increasingly longer rides.

The training regimen pushed King into shape and qualified him for the trip, but it couldn’t simulate the natural elements and long rides that King, now past the 50-day mark of the journey, faces daily.

“We ride in the hot sun, the rain. Mornings have been really cold,” King said. “As long as it’s not lightning, we ride.”

King said it’s the support of team members that helps him get through the tough day — like that 110-mile trek through Nevada.

“When you hit that wall, the guys you’re riding with push you through it,” King said.

King is the only Pitt student riding in the event this year.

Push America’s Director of Development, Kevin Kelly, said Pitt students riding in the Journey of Hope has been something of a rarity since the ride’s founding in 1987.

“I’d be surprised if the number of past Pitt participants is in double digits,” Kelly said.

Since its inception, 1,700 Pi Kappa Phi brothers have participated in the Journey. Pitt’s chapter of Pi Kappa Phi disbanded in 2003 and returned to campus this past year, a factor that may account for the relatively low number of past Pitt participants, according to Zajdel.

In addition to riding during the day, each evening the Journey of Hope teams stop at an organization that benefits those with disabilities in the city hosting the team that night.

King said these visits, during which the team spends time with disabled people and also presents the organization with a grant from Push America, are his favorite part of the trip.

“Getting to meet people who all have these amazing stories about their battles, that really helps us with our battles.”

At Pitt, King majors in bioinformatics, a field that combines computer science and information sciences to solve problems and create hypotheses related to biology. He said the people with degenerative diseases he meets during friendship visits are the people he hopes to help cure through his future research ventures.

Kelly said the friendship visits give Journey participants a first-hand look at the way their hard work benefits the less-fortunate.

“Usually, halfway through they realize the event is a lot more than just cycling across the country,” Kelly said.

King’s caravan of riders expects to stop in Pittsburgh for an overnight stay from July 30 to July 31. His Pi Kappa Phi brothers are excited to greet their friend and his team on Pitt’s campus.

“We’re trying to get some of the guys together for him,” Zajdel said. “He deserves it.”

This past year, the Pitt chapter of Pi Kappa Phi raised $28,000 for Push America through on-campus activities and fundraising outreach, according to Zajdel. King’s fundraising efforts for the Journey of Hope accounted for almost a third of that total.

“Andy’s done incredibly well with fundraising,” Zajdel said. ”He has a good heart. He just wants to do good things.”

Pi Kappa Phi brother Dan Kent said he’ll be waiting to greet his friend alongside Zajdel.

“I’ll be out there for sure,” Kent said. “We’ll have as many people out there as we can with some signs.”

Zajdel added that the brothers are working to get a breakfast and free haircuts together for the team.

Kent gives King a lot of credit for taking part in the Journey of Hope.

“It takes a lot of guts to do this,” Kent said. “To go out by yourself with other kids from across the country and ride.”

After leaving Pittsburgh, King and his team will forge on toward their final destination of Washington, D.C. All 100 members of the Journey of Hope will converge on the Capitol Lawn on Aug. 5 to celebrate the completion of their journey.

“By the time the journey is done, most of [the participants] realize they did this for someone else,” Kelly said.