Monthly Archive for June, 2008

Gear Up Florida: Final Thoughts

It has officially been two whole weeks since I completed Gear Up Florida. I had wanted to write a post that sort of wrapped everything up a little bit earlier but I have been pretty busy since arrival. On the way home back from the airport my dad informed me that we had finally rented our house in Warrenton. This led to a busy week of packing, moving, and storing stuff. Just now I am starting to feel that I am getting back into a rhythm. Now I can breathe, relax, plan ahead, and reflect. Most importantly I can reflect on the rollercoaster ride I have been on called Gear Up Florida. It has been a great ride that went by really quickly, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. All the work and effort I have put in has been paid off many times over. I started off not quite sure if I had signed up for something I could handle. To now stand back and see what I have accomplished is really satisfying.

I have never been prouder to be part of Pi Kappa Phi. Being part of Gear Up Florida opened me up to a whole new dimension of what we do and what we accomplish. I treasure all the new friendships I have made on this trip. Gear Up Florida brought together brothers from across the whole country uniting us to help people with disabilities.

From the start of the trip I was impressed by how well it was run. Josh Sheffler, Director of Team Events started out the trip in a professional manner by presenting the policies and procedures and setting up the ground rules. Safety was stressed as the number one priority. I have to tell you I felt safer on the Florida roads than on the W&OD trail here in Virginia. We had a great crew that scouted out the route the day before each ride. On every turn a van was stopped making sure we made the right turn. A van was always ahead of the leading paceline and a van was always behind the last group of cyclists. Stations were set up about every 7 miles where we could get hydrated and get food for energy.

The best thing about the trip was the friendship visits. In a typical arrival, all of the cyclists would form a double paceline. We would ride in, glimmering in the Florida sun while crowd cheered us on. We then got to interact with everybody. Everyone would welcome us with open arms. The people we met were so positive and full of life; we got as much joy from the visits as they did from us. These visits taught me the importance of seeing a person in their abilities before their disability. I now hope I can go back home, speak to family and friends and spread awareness and encourage empathy rather sympathy when engaging with people with disabilities.

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Day 17 Arrival in Tallahasee!

Day 17
May 31, 2008
Tallahassee, FL
Written by Tim Clements
Louisiana Tech Associate Chapter
Louisiana Tech

I woke up on Saturday morning not having a whole lot of sleep, but I was full of energy because today was our last day and we will be having our big arrival. We got outside everyone including cyclists had to load all there luggage into two vans that went straight to Tallahassee. So after we all got our luggage into the vans the crew set out to mark turns for our final day of ridding and crewing. While we were on the road at crew stops the time just flew by.

We arrived at stage up in Tallahassee, and everybody was excited that the trip was almost over and yet no one wanted the journey to end. Everyone had to fill out evaluation forms about the trip’s lodging and friendship visits, before the cyclists could get on their bikes and ride into the long awaited arrival to the capital. So we start heading toward the capital with a police escort. It was awesome riding through town with cops leading the way for us. We had to go over two hills before we reached the capital, and when we started down the second hill, it was an amazing site to see the cyclists riding up to the capital building and it made for a fantastic picture. While we were pulling up people were yelling and cheering for us. We all got together for one final “picture formation” on the steps of the capital, and the crew also took one more picture together.

After we had our arrival at the capital and took numerous pictures the team dispersed and headed to our final lodging which was the Park Plaza Hotel. The hotel was the best lodging we had all trip the beds were so comfortable. Then at six o’clock everyone started gathering downstairs for the award dinner and banquet. The banquet was awesome; we found out that we are the highest fundraising GUF team ever, which was pretty cool. The top fundraisers were announced which was Alex S. and Alex A. and then the Bruce Rogers award was awarded to Trey Flowers who without a doubt deserved the award. Then finally there was a slide show of the entire trip, it was awesome seeing snapshots of the trip again but also it was tough because I knew I was going to miss the team and the event. I had a great time and I would not change any part of the trip for anything.

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Day 16 Live Oak

Day 16
May 30, 2008
Live Oak, FL
Written by
Will Sigman – 1998 graduate from the University of Washington
John Schuler – 1998 graduate from Southern Polytechnic State University.

We would just like to start out by thanking our family, friends and sponsors for supporting us and Push America in helping us raise more money than any other Gear Up Florida team. As of today we have raised over ninety thousands dollars and we are still expecting more donations. The trip so far has been amazing but has gone by in flash. It is hard to comprehend how such long days can go by so quickly. We couldn’t believe that it was already day 16 and we only had today and tomorrow left before the trip was over. Every day has been filled from before sunrise to late in the evening with incredible programming, friendship visits, cycling and bonding with the other team members.

We started our morning at the Howard Johnson hotel in Jacksonville with an amazing bacon egg and cheese casserole and homemade biscuits for breakfast sponsored by Amanda Bonner. We departed Jacksonville with our bikes on the racks for the first couple of miles due to road construction on our way to the first of two ninety mile days. Everyone rode really well today and the entire team got into lodging at Suwanee middle school early. After a couple of weeks on the bikes we are starting to get past the sore legs and bodies and be able to get through the miles. After a rolling lunch stop of left over pizza we were ready to get to lodging and have dinner and our last friendship visit with the Comprehensive Community Services group from Live Oak. We met with about ten people from the CCS and had a great time getting to know them. They were very excited to see us and for some it was the third year in a row sharing dinner with us.

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Day 15 Jacksonville

Day 15
May 29, 2008
Jacksonville, FL
Written by Jon Lynch
Alpha Psi Chapter
Indiana University

We began day fifteen with our departure from Tacachale in Gainsville, FL. The staff at Tacachale staff was kind enough to sponsor us with a hot breakfast that included scrambled egg, grits, and French toast. We then began our 85 mile adventure to Jacksonville. Overall the ride was extremely smooth: good road conditions, no headwind and the temperature was comfortable. We arrived at the University of Northern Florida and were greeted by brothers of the Zeta Zeta chapter whom sponsored our lunch. The smokehouse subs and Macallister’s cookies hit the spot after the long ride!

We then enjoyed a few hours of lounging at the UNF Aquatic center. Some of us napped while taking in some rays while others unsuccessfully attempted to improve our diving skills. After the swim we headed to lodging at the Howard Johnson Hotel (more commonly referred to as the “HoJo”). After settling in to the hotel we headed to a local park where Jon Powers sponsored dinner at a friendship visit. The dinner included Little Caesar’s pizza and some of the most delicious brownies ever made. Unfortunately due to communication problems, our guests for the friendship visit fell through but we were still able to get them a rather generous grant check which is most important. After dinner we went to the mall to buy gag gifts for each other where not surprisingly everyone wound up in the same store: Spencer’s. We then departed for the hotel to get a good night’s rest for the next day’s journey.

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Day 14 Gainesville

Day 14
May 28, 2008
Gainesville, FL
Written by Andrew Weiner
Illinois Institute of Technology

Today started early with breakfast provided by Mike Hill from the Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Florida. After a t-shirt presentation for Mike we got on our bikes and prepared to depart for Gainesville. The ride was similar to the day before. Many long, rolling hills marked the ride into the city. We stopped around 45 miles to prepare for our police escort through the city to the ARC of Alachua County. When we finally got there we waited for a couple minutes while everyone prepared for our arrival. We rode two laps around the parking lot to the cheers of all the people there. Once we put our bicycles down we started signing autographs for anyone who asked. We had an excellent lunch of barbecued chicken. After visiting for awhile, we had to say our good byes and left for the Gainesville Health and Fitness Center. There, Mrs. Sheila Spence had paid for all of us to use the facilities and get stretched by a pair of professional trainers. This was a welcome relief after the 11 days since we had left Miami. From the health center we went to Tacachale which is an old army base that has been converted into a community for people with disabilities. We had a dance with the residents of Tacachale. After the dance we said goodbye to the residents and left for a long awaited dinner at the Swamp, a restaurant across from the University of Florida’s football stadium, which was sponsored by the Spence’s. We had an excellent dinner which included pastas and cake. At the end of our dinner some of us stayed for a little while and the rest returned to Tacachale to prepare to depart for Jacksonville in the morning.

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Day 13 Ocala

Day 13
May 27, 2008
Ocala, FL
Written by Matt Craft
University of North Florida

With amazing Friendship Visits at Give Kids the World and the Russell Home, our ride today seemed more pleasant than usual. The visits from yesterday truly inspired the team and I feel that showed in our 75 mile ride to Ocala where we encountered the hilliest ride to date. Unfortunately, we have no Friendship Visits today; however, this will allow us to rest both physically and mentally.

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Day 12 Orlando

Day 12
May 25, 2008
Orlando, FL
Written by Alex Stezskal
University of Illinois

Today was our second day in Orlando and a day off the bicycles. None the less, we had a 7:00a wake up which was especially difficult because we were staying in comfortable hotel rooms. For breakfast we were back to Give Kids the World. I was especially excited to be back because last night when were there I got to be Mr. Mint in their life size Candyland game. That by far was my most amazing experience thus far.

Breakfast was great and the team was split up into several different volunteer groups. I got placed in the auditorium pictures with Mickey and Minnie from Disney World. Our job was to direct the families to the stage and take pictures with their cameras. I made sure to take as many pictures as possible to try to truly capture the moment. By far Give Kids the World has been the most exciting and rewarding Friendship Visit thus far. I hope to go back there in the future, if not on my own time, and volunteer there again.

After Give Kids the World, we drove to Wet N’ Wild water park, but, after seeing the long lines and realizing we only had an hour or two we decided to go back to the hotel and relax.

Tonight we had another amazing Friendship Visit and amazing dinner. We went to the Russell Home, which is a privately owned and operated housing for people with disabilities. The residents along with the employees and operators of the facility were very inspirational and moving. We talked to them awhile about how they need a new house and how we could possibly help.

This trip so far has been by far the most amazing experience of my life and I don’t want it to end. The Friendship Visits have definitely been the best part of the trip. They’ve taught me a lot about people and myself personally. I can’t wait to do either Gear Up Florida or Journey of Hope again next summer.

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Day 11 Orlando

Day 11
May 25, 2008
Orlando, FL
Written by Diego Torres-Palma
University of Massachusetts

We spent the majority of the day in Orlando at a place called Give Kids the World, which was created for kids between the ages of 3 to 18 who have terminal illnesses. The park provides passes to Disney, Sea World, and Universal Studios as well as lodging and all expenses paid. It was an incredible place. The team was sure to visit the ice cream station where Friendly’s served us all banana splits!

We played a game of human Candyland; Some members of the team were characters in the game, others were making and giving out free cotton candy and snow cones. We had a face painting station and also a ‘land of candy’ once the kids finished the game! It was truly an experience I will never forget. The joy the kids exude is unforgettable!

We are officially 380 miles from being done! This experience has certainly left a mark on me.

I want to thank everyone for the support and generous donations! -Diego

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