Journey for Hope team stays in Vicksburg as a stop on cross-country journey

Published 11:36 am Monday, July 26, 2021

On Friday, 20 Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers rode their bikes into Vicksburg to stay the night as part of their 59-day journey across the country to spread awareness and support for people with disabilities.

These cyclists are the Journey of Hope South team, which started in Santa Barbara, Calif. and will end in Washington, D.C. Averaging 75 miles per day, they arrived in Vicksburg on day 37 of their journey and stayed at the Julius Ward Memorial YMCA, a Journey of Hope sponsor since 2013. They have two more stops in Mississippi: Brandon and Meridian.

Nick Ryan is one of the six additional crew members that make sure the cyclists stay safe and hydrated on their journey. He is also the fundraising coordinator for the group. Ryan said crew members need to raise a minimum of $3,000 and cyclists raise at least $6,500 to be a part of the trip. The 20-year-old student at Loyola University said he wanted to get involved after hearing about the group upon joining his fraternity.

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I wanted to join something bigger than myself,” Ryan said. “Now going through [the trip], it is just a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Ryan said his favorite experience so far was meeting Jeff, a child with a disability that he met on a friendship visit in Shreveport.

“We have friendship visits that help people with disabilities, and we are just there to have a fun time with them,” Ryan said.

These friendship visits are planned by organizations in the places the group stops. They’ve done many different activities, ranging from a slip-and-slide day and karaoke to a talent show. Cyclist Payton Ware said this is a way to experience different communities across the country and see the varying amount of resources for people with disabilities in different areas.

“You start to realize how little of a support system there is in some places,” Ware said. “We get to see those places that need help and we can put our efforts there. We can go back to those places to support them financially and give them hands to volunteer.”

Ware said that as one of the cyclists, he has experienced all sorts of weather, from mudslides to forest fires to lightning storms. He said his back and legs are also constantly sore from the many miles biked each day. In fact, he didn’t take up cycling until shortly before the trip started and is borrowing a friend’s bike. However, the Hattiesburg resident said all this all fades away when he is on a friendship visit.

“You get that sense of empathy with the community around you and you start to forget about all your personal problems and you realize that ‘I’m lucky to be able to do this,’” Ware said. “Me hurting for a couple of hours or just going through some pain for two months is nothing compared to having to live with disabilities for the rest of your life.”

This is the reason the group is biking as their mode of transportation across the country — it is their disability for the summer to help them understand, even if it’s just a bit. Ware said he hopes this journey not only makes him a more compassionate and empathetic person, but also helps the group spread their message of inclusion and acceptance.

“I get to spread our message even wider, and I want to be able to spread this message of empathy and awareness as far as I possibly can,” Ware said.

Currently a junior at the University of Mississippi, Ware said this trip was the reason he joined his fraternity, and for him, this mission isn’t over after the cycling trip ends.

“It’s not cycling for two months and you’re done; this is the start to my journey, which I plan to work on for the rest of my life,” Ware said.

Partnered with a second Journey for Hope team, the group will have raised $400,000 at the completion of their trip while also sharing a message of inclusivity along the way. To donate or learn more about the fraternity’s philanthropic efforts, visit their website here.