As they entered into the twilight stages of their respective college careers, Biotechnology major Rob Newell and Systems Engineering major Joe Sciandra both felt the need to mark this period with a life-altering event. Instead of the standard trip to Vegas or last-hurrah party, Newell and Sciandra have chosen something a bit more unorthodox: Cycling across the country to raise money for charity.
This upcoming summer, the boys will be participating in Journey of Hope, an event held annually by Pi Kappa Phi philanthropic organization The Ability Experience. 100 brothers from chapters across the country have been divided up into groups of roughly 30 people. Newell will be starting with a crew in Seattle and Sciandra in San Francisco. Both of their journeys will cover about 3,600 miles – an average of about 80 miles per day – and take over 2 months to complete.
"For me, I have been in Pi Kappa Phi since 2012," said Newell. "This is my final coup de grace, both in the fraternity and as an undergraduate."
Sciandra nodded his head in an agreement. "Service was one of the reasons I joined the fraternity," he added, "and Journey of Hope always sounded like something I wanted to do. I've been biking forever. The real clincher was when I went to see the [Journey of Hope participants'] arrival in Washington D.C. my freshman year. Ever since then, I knew."
The same sentiment did not apply to Newell.
"At first, I was not really sure if I should. I didn't even own a road bike," he added. "But honestly, you just have to take things for what you want, not what you have."
Now the guys are both fully committed to ride this summer. While their journeys do not start until the first week of June, Newell and Sciandra have been diligently preparing for the big day.
"In order to go on the trip, you need to raise $5,500 bare minimum," explained Newell. "All proceeds for the Journey of Hope, which is usually about $600,000, goes to support people with disabilities. We've been doing a whole lot of knocking on doors for fundraising."
The requirements for physical training are a bit more relaxed.
"You need to be in good physical shape, obviously," explained Newell. "But I'm not really a cyclist. I was more motivated by the philanthropic aspect and the personal experience than I was proving my cycling worth, because I have none," he laughed.
"It's going to be really fun training this guy," said Sciandra, joining in on the laughter.
One obstacle they have faced, however, is the Rochester winter.
"When the Rochester weather lets us, we're excited to just get out there and ride," said Sciandra. "I live in Livonia, about 30 minutes from here, so we're planning to a pick day to go out there to my house. Got to make sure we hit all those hills." That incline training will be crucial when they have to climb the Rockies. When the weather permits, Newell and Sciandra are also planning many trips to the Finger Lakes trails as well as some local rides.
"The ride is going to be very hard, physically," continued Sciandra. "Here, if your leg is hurting, you can take a day off. Out there, that's not going to be an option. You're going to have to push yourself to the next level."
For both of the guys, the benefits far out weigh the costs.
"The biggest part I am excited for is the friendship visits," said Sciandra. "This whole event is for people with disabilities, so we will be stopping along the way at camps and different cities to visit with people. I really look forward to building those relationships."
"I think I am going to learn a lot about myself and others along this trip," Newell chimed in. "I can't wait for the genuine opportunity to interact with a variety of people."
Most likely when Rob Newell and Joe Sciandra arrive in Washington D.C. on Aug. 13, they will be very different people than the ones who started out on Aug. 6 and Aug. 8 in Seattle and San Francisco.