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Going the distance for the disabled

By ANDREA FURLONG

biker

While other college students will be working this summer or sleeping in at their parents’ homes, 2007 Williamsburg High School graduate Tucker Harrison will be working his way across the country on bike.

Beginning June 13, Tucker will bike nearly 4,000 miles in 67 days on the Journey of Hope, a Pi Kappa Phi cycling event that raises money for the disabled. It’s something the 20-year-old has wanted to do since he became a member of the fraternity at Iowa State University three years ago.

“One of the guys who had recruited me had done Journey of Hope before. That was one of the biggest selling points for me — all the work they do with people with disabilities. Just the thought of one day being able to do the Journey of Hope is what made me join (Pi Kappa Phi),” he said.

INTERESTS IN THE DISABLED

Growing up, disabilities weren’t something Tucker thought about, until his father lost his leg in a car accident when Tucker was almost a teenager. After getting used to seeing his father, Doug, wear his prosthetic leg, Tucker barely noticed a difference in his dad, aside from a subtle limp. The injury may have kept Doug away from ladders, but he was still able to put in a hard day’s work and run his own business hauling livestock and farm equipment.

“I don’t really see Dad as someone with a disability. He’s so active. He does pretty much everything,” Tucker said.

As he grew older, Tucker began to wonder what the lives of other disabled people were like. Not every disabled person, he realized, could lead a fairly normal life without struggling. In his first two years of being a member of Pi Kappa Phi, whose service projects center around the disabled, Tucker gained a better understanding of how a disability affects a person’s way of living.

“Everything is so much more accessible when you don’t have a disability. Just being able to get around . . . one person showed us a video of how long it takes this guy to get out of the bed in the morning. It takes him an hour just because he has to physically move every part of his lower body because he broke his neck. You don’t really take for granted getting out of bed in the morning when you see this guy has to take so long to do it every day,” he said.

He also volunteered his time at a center for the disabled in Ames, where he learned disabled children and adults alike need a friend just as much as anybody else.

“There are a few that always come up and give us big hugs. Most of the time all the kids there are just happy to see us,” he said.

Now, as president of ISU’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter, Tucker is taking on one of the fraternity’s most important and most challenging efforts to help the disabled, the annual Journey of Hope. 

THE RIDE

Tucker will bike the physically demanding tour of the United States, starting in San Francisco on June 13, and ending over 3,500 miles away in Washington, D.C., Aug. 14. He will wake up before 5 a.m. every morning to bike an average of 75 miles a day through cities and small towns, up hills and across plains, stopping to give at least one presentation a day on disabilities or volunteer at a center for the disabled.    

At least half of the destinations involve putting on a children’s puppet show to educate young ones about the disabled.

“We want to make sure they are aware that (the disabled) are people, too, and that they enjoy fun, just like other kids do,” Tucker said.

Other destinations will include socializing with people with both mental and physical disabilities. Tucker said he’s already been warned about taking on any professional wheelchair basketball players.

“There’s been horror stories of getting absolutely annihilated by those guys,” he laughed.

Over the two months of service work on the go, Tucker will survive on two weeks worth of clothing and water and food transported in vans at the head and tail of the bicycle pack of 30 or more men he’ll be riding in. As for taking along something to motivate him to get through the 75-mile rides, Tucker is thinking of leaving the mp3 player at home.

“I think a lot of it is going to be taking in the nature around us,” he said. 

The Journey of Hope requires an adventurous spirit and heart, as well as endurance. For the past six weeks, Tucker has been building up his endurance, taking his brand new Trek 1.5 road bike out on the pavement for rides of up to 20 miles. When his physical strength fails him on the ride this summer, his motivation will be the many disabled people who will benefit from the $5,000 he raises toward helping them, as a requirement of the Journey.

“I know this sounds corny, but I’m riding for the kids. I’m doing it because it’s something that some of them will never be able to do, so I’m doing it for them,” he said.

SUPPORTING THE CAUSE

The $5,000 Tucker must raise to ride on the Journey of Hope will go to Push America, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of the disabled. Currently, Tucker has raised slightly more than 50 percent of the amount he needs. His personal goal is $6,000.

To donate to Push America, checks should be made payable to Push America and sent to Tucker Harrison, 3371 215th Street, Oxford, IA, 52322. You can also donate online at http://secure.pushamerica.org/tuckerharrison. You can also visit this Web sit, to follow Tucker’s travels as he rides on the Journey, starting June 13. For more information, search for “I Support Tucker Harrison on the Journey of Hope” at facebook.com. 

UPDATED April 10, 2010 11:01 AM

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