Student bikes across America to support people with disabilities

Student bikes across America to support people with disabilities

Before Eric Shaner biked across America with the Journey of Hope, he had not traveled more than 50 miles at one time. But by the end of his almost 60 day trip, he had biked 3,670 miles, sometimes biking more than 100 miles per day. 

 “You can’t really prepare for something like that,” Shaner said.

Shaner joined the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s chapter of Pi Kappa Phi as a sophomore because one of his friends told him about the Journey of Hope, the fraternity’s yearly biking trip to support people with disabilities.

The Ability Experience, Pi Kappa Phi’s philanthropic initiative, hosts the Journey of Hope, the largest fraternal fundraising event of its kind. The initiative aims to change the way society views people with disabilities, emphasizing people-first talk and the idea that with the right opportunities, anyone can accomplish anything, said Shaner. 

The trip began in 1987 when one member of Pi Kappa Phi biked across America to raise awareness for the work of The Ability Experience. The next year, 21 members biked across America in the inaugural bike ride.

Now, over the course of about two months during the summer, three teams of fraternity members bike three separate routes from the west coast to Washington, D.C. Shaner participated in the south route, taking him from Santa Barbara, California to Fort Worth, Texas and then up the east coast. Each cyclist is expected to raise $6,000 before the trip begins, and in total, the participants in the 2019 Journey of Hope have raised $567,000 of their $700,000 goal.

The group of 19 cyclists on the south route stopped at different organizations and overnight camps designed to serve people with disabilities. One of Shaner’s most memorable stops was visiting Tonya Rivera, the founder of Every Ability Plays in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which aims to make sure every playground in Albuquerque is accessible to all children. 

“One of the biggest things that made [the trip] worth it was riding into a new organization and seeing hundreds of smiling faces with so much love,” Shaner said. 

From a young age, Shaner was engaged in service to people with disabilities. His mother works at the Arc, which provides assistance to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and he would often shadow her at work, exploring the halls and making friends with the residents and workers. 

Once he reached high school, Shaner participated in Unified Bowling and the Best Buddies program, both volunteer-based organizations that help create opportunities for people with disabilities. 

His membership in Pi Kappa Phi has helped him continue this service into his college career. UMBC’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter has partnered for over ten years with Maiden Choice school, a local day school that provides programs for children and young adults with cognitive disabilities. Shaner has helped out over the years by assisting teachers in the classroom and his service has motivated him to continue volunteering after he graduates with a degree in chemical engineering and hopefully finds a job in service engineering.

Shaner was the only member of UMBC’s chapter of Pi Kappa Phi to join the Journey of Hope this past summer, but he said that since his return, another one of his fraternity brothers has signed up for next summer.

“The fact that I was able to … bring awareness to the community and bring awareness to the whole [UMBC] campus made it worth it,” Shaner said.

Photo: Eric Shaner in his Journey of Hope uniform. Photo courtesy of Eric Shaner.