The road stretches on, a winding river of black asphalt. Matt Proctor ’11 is in the zone as leans over the handlebars and peddles along at about 18 miles per hour, listening to the rhythm of his breathing and the hum of his tires against the pavement. His muscles start to burn as the cluster of 27 cyclists he is a part of heads uphill. The brutal summer sun beats down and as sweat trickles down his back, he has to remind himself once again why he’s pushing himself to ride 4,000 miles in 64 days: for Betsy.
Proctor, a marketing student at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, is spending the summer of 2009 riding from coast to coast for the Journey of Hope, an event that brings awareness and encouragement to people with disabilities. Three teams of riders will make the trek from San Francisco and Seattle to Washington D.C., stopping in towns across the U.S. where they will put on puppet shows, organize wheelchair basketball games, meet with city and state officials and simply visit those with mental and physical disabilities. They will also present grants to support organizations and centers for people with disabilities.
This is a population that is often overlooked in society, said Proctor. That’s why he’s riding: to remind people that those with disabilities are important and should be valued. His personal motivator for the ride is his Mays classmate, Betsy Helbing ’11. During the second week of her freshman year at A&M, Helbing was involved in a horrific accident that robbed her of the use of her legs. Proctor says that after a prolonged hospital stay, Betsy returned to campus with her sunny disposition intact.
“She’s such an incredible girl,” Proctor said of Helbing. “She’s exactly the same as she was before the accident, but she’s in a wheelchairâ€¦She didn’t let it change her at all.” Proctor says that he’s inspired by her courage, enthusiasm for life, and her contagious happiness. He is dedicating his Journey of Hope ride to her.
The Journey of Hope is organized by the nonprofit Push America, the philanthropic arm of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Proctor, a “pi kapp” himself, first became interested in the ride when he heard their national consultant at a fraternity meeting in spring of 2008. The mission of the organization appealed to him, as did the activity: a broken leg suffered the year before left him unable to run or participate in any high-impact sport, and cycling was one exercise he could still do. It had been years since anyone in the A&M Pi Kappa Phi chapter had participated in Journey of Hope. Proctor decided it was time to change that. He started to train in the fall of 2008, building up to 20 mile rides per day with one 50 mile ride per week by the following spring.
The selection process for the ride was skill and merit based, including an examination of his training and fundraising plans, a values assessment, and an essay about why he wanted to participate in the ride. At first, it seemed all Proctor’s dedication was in vain: his application was received after the roster had already been filled. When he got the call saying someone else had dropped out and there was a space for him, Proctor says he was ecstatic. “I went nuts. I was freaking out. I was so excited,” he said.
Each rider raises at least $5,000 directly for the Journey of Hope, and must also raise or fund themselves for personal expenses, such as equipment and airfare. All funds raised by the participants, when paired with corporate sponsorships, brings in about $500,000 per year to support the organization’s programs.
While on the ride, Proctor will log between 50 and 110 miles per day, spending his nights in a sleeping bag on the floor of any donated space available, such as YMCAs, school gyms, community centers, and churches. “It’s roughing it with a roof over your head,” he joked. You can follow his blog throughout the summer at http://www.letsride2009.com.
Journey for Hope riders from across the U.S. will converge in Seattle and San Francisco on June 11 to have a few days of training before hitting the open road on June 15. Proctor will ride with the southern team, which will trek through Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia before ending in D.C.
Next year, Proctor will serve the A&M Pi Kappa Phi chapter as Push chair, responsible for planning events and fundraising for people with disabilities. He also plans to get involved with the Aggie cycling team. Proctor lives in Dallas, Texas.