The cycling trek lasts only two weeks, but the lives touched along the 865 miles of Gear Up Florida’s route won’t soon forget Pi Kappa Phi members like Austin Doyle. The University of Texas at Tyler junior was among the 32 cyclists and crew members riding across the State of Florida to re-shape the perception of people with disabilities.
On Thursday, May 12, the cycling event kicked off on the shores of Miami, traveled through the Florida orange fields, reached the Gulf coast, passed through Orlando, wound back to the Atlantic coast and culminated at the State Capitol in Tallahassee. The team spread a message of acceptance and understanding to communities in Florida through newspapers, radio and television, civic groups and community leaders, reaching millions of people. Cyclists pedaled an average 80 miles each day, before participating in a ‘friendship visit’ with an organization that serves people with disabilities in each community. The Ability Experience, Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity’s philanthropy, provides each of these non-profits with a grant before departing the next day.
“It’s funny how people along the route would thank me for touching so many people’s lives. What they don’t understand is that they have touched my life far, far more. For that, I am eternally grateful.”
Doyle, a special education major from Austin, Texas, raised $4,280 toward the team’s $88,200 collective fundraising effort, which will directly benefit people with disabilities.Team members are selected through a rigorous application process, which included a one-thousand word essay and phone interview.
Gear Up Florida’s programming is what makes this event so unique, with every event centered on the mission of the trek. Some days, team members will visit three different organizations that support people with disabilities. Seeing the direct impact on the people they raise money for is very emotional for team members. Many cannot help but be touched by the gratitude and kindness that is shown along Gear Up Florida.
The trek provides a heavy dose of life perspective that leaves participants inspired and motivated to do more for people with disabilities in their own communities.
Doyle plans to continue this mission when he returns to East Texas. This Spring, he was hired as an outreach coordinator for the East Texas Center for Independent Learning, which works with people with disabilities. “I have dedicated my life to helping those with disabilities. I am trying to share the idea of a People First Society. I ask that when you see a person with a disability, you see them as a person first before their disability.”
Since Gear Up Florida’s creation in 1997, more than 375 Pi Kappa Phi members have participated.