While many college students spend the summer working, performing internships or continuing coursework, three Belmont students will cycle across the country to raise funds for orphans in Honduras.
“The idea of a 4,000-mile cross country bike ride was enticing but left us wanting more,” said JD Hartwig, of St. Louis, Mo. “Being on a bike four to six hours a day for seven weeks is a crazy ridiculous opportunity to bless other people.”
Hartwig, rising senior Brennon Mobley and rising junior James Richfield discovered they shared a common compassion for orphans and connected with 147 Million Orphans, a Middle Tennessee-based nonprofit organization that raises awareness for orphans and provides them with food, water and medication. They created Riding with a Reason to use the summer excursion to raise $50,000, enough to finance a school building in Mount Olivos, Honduras and fill it with basic supplies, desks, chairs, books and uniforms as well as secure teachers’ salaries. Together the students are underwriting the trip so that all of the money raised through their bike ride across the country supports the project.
On Monday, they left for Hondorus to visit the children they will impact, and on May 15, they will begin their seven-week journey from Oceanside, Oregon to Washington, D. C.
“Their trip allows people to get involved not only financially but also with their hands and feet to grow our knowledge base on how to reach people and empower them to do what’s on their heart,” said 147 Million Orphans Co-Founder Gwen Oatsvall. “It is going to help us reach a broader audience. As they bike across America, they are going to share our story with people we have never been able to reach.”
Hartwig, who spends his leisure time running half marathons, cycling and completing CrossFit workouts, wrote the semester-long training schedule which kept the three students on bicycles 58 to 82 miles a day, rising early for spin classes in the Beaman Fitness Center and weekend rides on the Natchez Trace to increase their endurance and stamina.
“A common theme for this whole trip is to maximize every outlet that we have. We changed schedules to train together, researched to learn more about bicycles. Leveraging our adventure for those gains is the same as leveraging those gains to help other people,” Hartwig said.
Mobley, from Nashville, said, “I obviously enjoy fitness. We saw this as a challenge and an opportunity… the whole idea of seeing parts of the country we have never seen from the seat of a bicycle.”
In January, 147 Million Orphans mentioned the cross-country cycling trip on Twitter, and the students received some 3o responses with offers to help. They created mini bike challenges with fact sheets and materials for people to create their own programs and track their progress to raise funds for the nonprofit organization.
“We wanted this to be something that is a sustainable program and something 147 can jump on for the next year to use as its summer fundraiser,” said Richfield, from Nashville.
“We are challenging ourselves mentally and physically to create something bigger than ourselves so we are challenging others to do their own bike challenges,” Mobley said. “It allows other people to be engaged and give and be challenged. We are excited about engaging others and reaching out to bike clubs along the way to ride with us as we pass through their areas.”
Jefferson Brown, also a Belmont student, will drive behind the trio in a support car, and the crew will camp overnight in rural areas and spend the night with 147 Million Orphan supporters in 50 cities along their route. Along the way they will stop to sightsee and share 147 Million Orphan’s story at churches and community centers to solicit donations.
“This trip, I hope that it sets a precedent for the rest of my life that having a career you like and work hard for is super important, but some opportunities you only get once,” said Hartwright, who graduates from Belmont in May. “If I can make the most of my current situation, I can bless a lot of people and have the opportunity of a lifetime. Although I may have some uncomfortable feelings in my stomach when friends have full-time jobs [right after graduation], at the end of the day I think I am making a great decision.”