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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Riding for a cause

After 4,000 miles, 32 states and 63 days, sophomore marketing major Matt Proctor plans to emerge a changed person and see a changed America.
This summer Proctor will participate in the cross-country bicycle trek Journey of Hope to raise awareness for people with disabilities on behalf of the nonprofit organization Push America.
Proctor was motivated by the story of sophomore marketing major Betsy Helbing and has dedicated his journey to sharing her story. Helbing’s wheelchair disability does not stop her from living a life full of hope and compassion, he said, and he believes it’s his duty to carry that message to others.
“She can’t use her legs so I’m going to dominate the hell out of mine,” Proctor said.
Proctor met Helbing at the beginning of their freshman year – she was his roommate’s girlfriend. He said he knew that Helbing was someone special.
“As soon as I met her I could tell she was a bubbly, ecstatic, love-to-be-alive, happy girl,” Proctor said.
It was only two weeks into her first semester when Helbing’s life was rocked by tragedy. She fell three stories from a bridge and lost the use of both of her legs.
Looking back, Proctor said he was amazed at the faith and grace Helbing radiated throughout the ordeal. One and a half years later he said she continues to be the same joyful person she was before.
“You would think something as traumatizing as that would take a permanent hold on you,” he said.
Proctor and Helbing are both sophomore marketing majors and live in the same apartment complex. These areas of overlaps in their lives allow them to see each other on a regular basis.
Helbing has embraced life with a disability and said although it may look like her life has changed immensely this is not the case.
“Everyone thinks my life is altered but I honestly feel the same,” Helbing said. “It’s not that hard because my friends help me out so much and I still do all the same things like working out time for school and hanging out with my friends.”
The accident has given Helbing a renewed perspective and deeper insight that has enabled her to exude her contagious happiness on a greater scale than before.
“I don’t get stressed out, and have realized the little things don’t matter as much in the greater perspective of life,” she said.
Proctor said it was her strength and unparalleled optimism amid hardship that has inspired him to ride.
“It was one of those things that became my conviction. If she can live every day the same, if not better, then what am I doing,” he said. “Should we not use what we have now, something that can be taken away in an instant, to do something absolutely incredible.”
Helbing said knowing Proctor has dedicated his summer-long journey to her, brings an immense amount of joy and the mission of Push America touches her heart.
“I think it is so awesome that they are training and having this adventure to raise money and awareness,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to know that people you don’t even know care for you.”
Push America and the Journey of Hope
Push America is the national philanthropy of Proctor’s fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi. While most fraternities and sororities donate to already established organizations and causes, Pi Kappa Phi’s created it’s own.
Pi Kappa Phi created and continues to own the nonprofit organization Push America. Founded in 1977, Push America has raised $13 million to educate about people with disabilities and enhance their quality of life.
“Push America was created with the hopes to raise funds and awareness for people with disabilities,” said Adam Phillips, Push America director of marketing and public relations.
The concept behind Journey of Hope began in 1987 when Bruce Rogers completed a solo trek across the country to promote Push America. By the following year, one man’s inspirational voyage had developed into the annual event now known as Journey of Hope.
Since its beginning, more than 1,000 Pi Kappa Phi members have made the journey, raising $500,000 every year. To participate in the bike across America, each member of the three 30-man teams must raise $5,000.
“All the money that is raised through the rider’s fundraising goes directly back to the people that they are riding for, [and] the organizations and clubs they meet along the way,” Phillips said.
Starting June 14 in San Francisco and ending Aug. 15 in Washington D.C., Proctor’s team will ride a total of 4,000 miles, riding an average of 75 miles a day and stopping at 60 cities along the way.
How his journey began
Proctor said the Journey of Hope was the perfect match – although he wouldn’t realize it until later – and all the pieces just seemed to fall into place.
The idea of participating was first planted when Push America’s national consultant Walt Pape spoke to Proctor’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter in fall 2008.
As the fraternity’s secretary, Proctor had the opportunity to get one-on-one time with Pape, during which he learned about the consultant’s experience with Journey for Hope.
“The coolest thing he told me was that every year these people anxiously wait for us to come and I thought ‘okay that just sounds amazing,'” Proctor said.
He said the idea has grown because of the stories of life-changing experiences, meeting amazing people and forming lasting bonds.
Proctor broke his tibia in two places in 2008, requiring surgeries and months of recovery. As a result, he was no longer able to place large amounts of pressure on his leg, a condition limiting his previously very active lifestyle. However, cycling was not out of the question because the mechanics of bicycles minimize the amount of shock legs absorb.
His father and older brother both cycled, but Proctor had never given it much thought.
“I didn’t really put two and two together until the consultant came and I realized ‘I can actually do that. I can cycle and serve in this great opportunity,'” Proctor said.
The Ride
Proctor said the two-month cycling expedition will take determination and stamina from the participants. They will ride 75 miles every day and sleep on whatever is available to them – usually gym floors. Riders will only be allowed to bring a sleeping bag or floor mattress, a small duffel bag and a backpack.
Proctor and the others are responsible for their own needs throughout the trip, including meals. On a college-student budget and minimal storage space, he said he plans on living off a diet of Cliff bars and Gatorade.
Although the journey will be challenging, Proctor said it is definitely worth it.
“I’m looking forward to taking what Betsy has to the people that may be struggling more with what’s happening to them,” Proctor said. “It is all about acceptance, about making them feel loved.”
At every stop along the way, the Journey of Hope team will be welcomed by governors or state representatives, take part in special events to educate the community and raise awareness for people with disabilities, and make “friendship visits” to local people with disabilities.
The special events will include community parades, bicycle safety seminars, pool parties, educational puppet shows teaching acceptance and wheelchair basketball games. Friendship visits will range from barbecues to fireside sing-a-longs as a means to interact with people with disabilities.
“They will meet people with disabilities of all ages and backgrounds and spend time together, make friendships, and build connections,” Phillips said.
Proctor said it’s this aspect of the trip that he believes is the most important.
“It’s a lot of interaction that they just don’t usually get whether it is because of discrimination or accessibility,” Proctor said.
He said they are there just to interact, mentor, entertain and show the disabled there are people out there who do care about them.
“You influence community members that rarely see what’s happening in these environments when they just walk by and see us hanging out with these kids. It makes them realize ‘why don’t I do something like that? Why do I walk past a person with a disability and look down upon them when all they do is care about you?'”
Proctor’s bike, a 2006 Giant OCR Limited Composite Carbon Fiber, is ready to make the 4,000 trek. Although his bicycle hasn’t been named yet, Proctor said he was considering Rocksteady or Bebop, inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Proctor said he plans to document every step of the journey through his interactive blog, Youtube clips and Flickr photo posting. Armed with his iPhone, camcorder and camera, Proctor said he hopes to capture and share the group’s trials and triumphs, inspiring stories, laughable moments and the inspiring love and compassion of the people he will meet along the way.
Help outTo find out more or to donate to Proctor’s cause with Push America visit his blog at www.letsride2009.com.

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