For a group of teenagers visiting Minnesota last week, an afternoon at Nickelodeon Universe was a welcome day of rest.
The teens were about halfway done with a two-month trek across the country, by bicycle, to raise awareness and money benefiting boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The 15-state journey spans 3,500 miles from coast to coast, which means a day off their bike seats is a rare treat.
The teens and their adult chaperones spent two nights at Unity South Church of Bloomington, one of the many churches and schools across the country that are providing shelter to the rolling caravan this summer.
The teen girls riding in this year’s JettRide have very personal reasons for hitting the road day after day.
Cousins Delaney Branigan and Kaitlyn Hastings of Massachusetts have seen the effects of Duchenne muscular dystrophy firsthand. Hastings’ 13-year-old brother has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Hastings, 17, is participating in her second JettRide. Last year’s ride – from Michigan to New Jersey – was a simple 900 miles in comparison to this year’s trek. Hastings and Branigan weren’t able to make it to Astoria, Ore., for the start of this year’s ride on June 15 because they were finishing school, but they picked up the ride in Cody, Wyo., joining two riders who already on the route, Hastings explained.
The cousins found their early days on the road to be quite challenging. Hastings has experience from riding last summer, but the daily rides have been more ambitious on this year’s route in order to cover 3,500 miles in 62 days, she explained.
Branigan, 15, relied upon workouts and conditioning through her recent track and field season to help carry her through the daily grind of bicycling across the midwest. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she said.
Julianna Gabel of Curtice, Ohio, learned about the ride through her neighbors. Their son has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and when a JettRide came through her town a couple of years ago, the neighbors invited Gabel’s family to join them in cheering the riders on. The idea of bicycling across the country with other teens captivated her, and last year she participated in her first ride as a 14-year-old. “The experience is amazing,” she said.
Having conquered the trip from Michigan to New Jersey, Gabel returned this summer for the 3,500-mile version of the ride, which is “a lot tougher than it was last year,” she said, calling it “challenging physically as well as mentally.
“I miss my family a lot more than I thought I would.”
Although days off average less than one per week, the days off provide opportunities to explore natural and manmade wonders. In Bloomington that meant an afternoon at Mall of America. The highlight of the trip as of last week was the visit to Yellowstone National Park while the group was in Wyoming.
Ezra Sonderling of Newton, Mass., is the anomaly of the group. He chose to participate in this year’s JettRide for the adventure of bicycling across the country. He didn’t have the personal connection to Duchenne muscular dystrophy that his counterparts do, but his love of bicycling, and the enjoyment he derived in participating in an organized ride from South Carolina to San Diego last summer prompted him to find a way to do it again this year. During his research of cross-country bike rides he learned about JettRide. After reading about the event he determined the ride benefits “a great charity and a good cause,” he explained.
Although he is crossing the country by bicycle, participating in JettRide is a trade off. Sonderling, 16. is part of a bike racing team back home, and being part of a two-month group ride means he’s missing out on bike racing, he explained.
The four teens working their way east are the primary participants this summer, but they’re being joined periodically for a day or two by other riders who couldn’t commit to traveling across the country. And they also have adult chaperones riding with them each day, such as 41-year-old Daniel Carrion.
Carrion is part of a trio of ride leaders that take turns riding with the teens each day. Unlike the teens, Carrion has extra days off since each day one of the ride leaders drives the group’s van and trailer to their next destination.
Coordinating overnight stays with schools and churches, the group is ensured shelter from the elements at the end of most days. Church groups such as Unity South Church often organize a volunteer team that provides meals and snacks for the riders. The group also meets with families affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy at many of their host sites.
The JettRide is organized by the Jett Foundation, a Massachusetts-based organization named after founder Christine McSherry’s 19-year-old son Jett, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The disease occurs randomly in 1 out of 3,500 births, affects boys and often results in early death. The foundation has raised more than $2 million for Duchenne research since 2001.
Information about the ride is available online at bit.ly/jettride.
Contact Mike Hanks at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @suncurrent.