Cross-Country Cyclists Raising Awareness for Disabilities Rides into Monroe

MONROE -- A very special group of cyclists is in Monroe on Wednesday night.

After riding 115 miles for today's leg -- 37 cyclists rode into ULM, their refuge for the night.

They're pushing 3,800 miles over 61 days in an effort to spread awareness for the world to see people's abilities -- not their disabilities.

Journey Of Hope -- organized by Push America -- is made up of Pi Kappa Phi members from across the country. 

Some cyclists are from Seattle, Florida and even New York City -- each with their own mission for riding.

"I'm actually an aspiring physician, and one thing I really noticed is that there's a lack of awareness for people with disabilities and health care," said John Paul Michaud, a cyclists from Long Beach, California.

"I'm doing this to illustrate my acceptance for people with disabilities, and my compassion I have for them," said Grayson McFarlin, a student at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

ARCO of Monroe greeted the cyclists with cheers, encouragement and hand-made signs.

"This shows our participants how people around the country support them by riding across America," said Joseph King, ARCO supported living manager. "Our group, we look forward to this every year, and we start preparing for it a month ahead of time."

The cyclists are spending time with ARCO this evening, with food and entertainment at one of ULM's dorms.

"If there's a center, we try to invite them out to greet the team, because these are who the guys are riding for." said Dallas Aasan, public relations coordinator and crew member.

This makes the 27th year for Journey of Hope -- with over $15 million raised for people with disabilities. It started in 1987 with fraternity member Bruce Rogers, who rode cross-country by himself to raise awareness.

The organization is aiming to raise more than $500,000 this year for people with disabilities.

Each cyclist must raise $5,500 to take part in the journey.

"What Push America does is they'll take that money, and give it back to communities that we visit," said Aasan.

This year's trek started in Long Beach, California, and trailed through Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The cyclists bike an average of 70 miles per day, but push well over 100 miles on some days.

"The first couple of days were really tough for the whole team," said Michaud.

"We've been through almost every climate region so far. We went through Death Valley, where it's like, 122 degrees," said McFarlin. "We had one day that was 137 miles and another day that had 1200 feet of climbing. [Louisiana] is definitely way better, when we were biking through earlier today, there was lots of trees, really dense forest."

The journey ends on August 2 in Washington, D.C. The cyclists still have another 2,000 miles to go.

"They'll spend 12 hours on a bike one day, just to get here be welcomed with open arms in a city they've never been to with people they've never met," said Aasan.

Despite the sore muscles, scrapes and bruises -- the cyclists say every mile is worth it.

"What keeps me going personally, is knowing that we're riding for people with disabilities, and every single stop along the way, we've met so many amazing people who are so supportive," said Michaud.

The team will head out to the YMCA of Vicksburg, Mississippi bright and early on Thursday morning.

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