Gear Up Florida

Tallahassee (70 miles)

Better late than never, right?  It has now been a little over a month since I’ve come back from Gear Up Florida and I’m sure you’re wondering why I chose today (43 days later, to be exact) as a fitting time to write about the last day of the trip.

Well, it wasn’t my intention.  Upon arriving home from Tallahassee at the end of May, I had a solid two weeks before I would start my internship at Weight Watchers International in New York City.  I wanted to use that time to unwind, to catch up with friends, and even-out those cycling tan lines (never quite accomplished that last one).  I also thought those two weeks off would give me some time to reflect on the whole experience and approach this final post with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.

You know how it goes.  I started working a full time job, spending weeknights watching Mets and Yankees games (and, recently, the Tour de France!), and weekends relaxing and working on my thank-you notes to my generous supporters (thank you!).  When I tried to sit down and write this, somehow my mind and body traveled elsewhere.  So, without further ado…

Ah, the last day of Gear Up Florida.  How bittersweet!  It has been an absolutely incredible two weeks on the bike, meeting such amazing and talented individuals, presenting worthy organizations with our fundraising dollars, and bonding as a team.  Today was a big day, a 90 mile trek from Live Oak to Tallahassee, coming off a 100 mile ride the day before.  But today was arrival day!  When we made it to the state capitol, we would be greeted by family, friends, and Push America staff and volunteers to celebrate the completion of our journey.

It was a tough ride, to say the least.  My cycling cleats were stripped beyond repair, so I had to borrow my teammate’s shoes (thanks, Kyle!).  The temperature was creeping up to 100 degrees.  The first leg of the ride featured an unpaved stretch of road (think bike meets beach) and bumpy conditions thereafter.

Road bikes don’t have much in the way of suspension, so your arms take much of the brunt of less-than-desirable road surfaces.  I figured that one out in the middle of the ride when my wrists started to ache.

There were plenty of rolling hills to keep us interested.  Towards the end, I felt my energy draining and had to keep reminding myself why we were on this trip to begin with to keep my legs moving.  Due to time constraints, most of the team was racked about 70 miles in.  A few brave souls, who were making great time, got in about 10 more miles and met up with the rest of the team at the staging area for arrival.

We got into formation around 2:45 that afternoon and embarked on our final arrival to the steps of the capitol building.  It was just a few miles, but the home stretch was straight uphill!  The team persevered and we rode, escorted by police cars, right up to the applause and cheers of our dedicated supporters.

We assembled on the steps for team photos and an inspiring speech given by Push America’s CEO, Chad Coltrane.

There was a great reception that night at the Double Tree Hotel, where the team was treated to a luxurious stay on the final night.  A much-deserving team member was presented with the Bruce Rogers Award, which is voted on by the team and awarded to the team member who best embodies the values of Push America (Bruce Rogers is a Pi Kapp who decided to ride his bike across the United States in the 1980s to raise awareness for people with disabilities.  His efforts inspired the establishment of Journey of Hope and Gear Up Florida, which his company sponsors every year).

The 2012 Gear Up Florida Team has raised over $96,000 to benefit people with disabilities.  While that is a huge accomplishment, I think it’s one of the less important things our team has achieved.  We have given our time and ourselves to this cause, which is infinitely more valuable than any monetary contribution we have made.  Unfortunately, many people with disabilities don’t get the opportunity to regularly socialize with people outside of their daily routines.  We travel across Florida to provide that opportunity, to sit down one-on-one, introduce ourselves, and say, “Hey, let’s be friends!”  We have as much of a blast (if not more!) than they do.  We witness, firsthand, the abilities of people and what they can do, which is a refreshing change for a society that tends to put the disability before the person.

For the past 35 years, Push America and Pi Kappa Phi have been breaking down those barriers.  It’s been said that amazing things happen when technology gets out of the way.  The same is true for people.  When we begin to see people for who they are, instead of who they’re not, we begin to notice their talents, creativity, energy, and courage.  Abilities will always overcome disabilities, as long as we give them the chance to shine through.

That is what I’ve learned from Gear Up Florida and Push America.

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