- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

Grayson Allen got quite a reception on his first trip to Washington yesterday.
As the 20-year-old "frat boy" from Hodge, La., rode toward the Capitol at noon with 68 other bicyclists to conclude a cross-country bike ride to benefit the disabled, flashbulbs popped and 500 people gathered around the Peace Circle cheered.
Clicking pictures as fast as she could, his mother, Kathy, wept uncontrollably.
"I am so relieved, excited and proud," said Mrs. Allen, who gave her son her most valuable possession before he left on the ride two months ago: a rosary blessed by the pope and which she has carried with her since she attended college in Rome.
All of the bikers are undergraduate students from 32 college and university chapters of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. The 4,000-mile ride they started in San Francisco on June 10 is the "Journey of Hope," an event that raises money for and awareness about the disabled.
This year, the riders raised as much as $300,000, said John Powers, a spokesman for Push America, a Charlotte, N.C.,-based nonprofit group, which provides adaptive equipment and educational resources for organizations working with the disabled throughout the country.
Push America has organized the Journey of Hope with fraternity brothers from Pi Kappa Phi for 14 years. Hopefuls go through extensive interviews and tests to ensure their commitment.
"Everyone usually has a stereotype of fraternity guys, but these guys are the antithesis of that," Mr. Powers said.
Cyclists said the bicycles were simply "attention-getters." The ride's real purpose was to spread awareness about the disabled. Even so, the ride took the most preparation, as cyclists trained three to four hours every day for months before the event started.
Describing his routine during the ride, Matt Schneider, 20, a student of San Francisco State University, said the cyclists would begin their days at 5:30 a.m., ride till noon and sometimes even later and cover 25 and 225 miles a day. In the evening, they would pay "friendship visits" to disabled communities.
"After each visit, the people there count the days waiting for us to come back," Mr. Schneider said.
Between hugging friends and posing for pictures on the Capitol steps, Mike Perico, a student at George Mason University and one of the two area participants in the ride, said: "This is easily the best day of my life. Nothing else comes even close."
Bob and Connie Flick traveled from Des Moines, Iowa, to watch son Ryan complete the ride. Mrs. Flick said she had worried when she first learned Ryan, a juvenile diabetic, was planning to go on the ride. "I was worried about the safety aspect," she said. The only hitch during the entire trip occurred when his insulin pump malfunctioned one time, but "it was nothing that couldn't be handled," Mrs. Flick said.
Family members kept in touch with their children through cellular phones and the Internet. Mr. Flick said Ryan, a computer engineering student, maintained a Web site where he posted photos of the team. "He would update the site anywhere he got a wire to upload," Mr. Flick said.
Several participants said they would be happy to repeat the journey next year. Almost everyone described the event as "life-changing."
Grayson Allen fought back tears as he spoke about befriending a blind man named Mike during one of the friendship visits. "Meeting Mike changed my life," he said. They became close friends, and he said he plans to stay in touch with Mike through letters.
Moreover, Mr. Allen, a student of Texas Christian University, now plans to make a career working for nonprofit groups. "Before this, I was all into business, but now I want to see who I can help," he said.

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