The Power of the Journey of Hope
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Politics and Activism

The Power of the Journey of Hope

How a TSU Pi Kapp went from inspired cyclist to driven intern

The Power of the Journey of Hope

Truman student, Jack Milford never expected to find his life calling on a bike ride. As a member of Truman’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter, he decided to jump full force into opportunities given to him by Pi Kapp's national philanthropy, The Ability Experience. His first major experience with Pi Kappa Phi’s philanthropy was during spring break where he and other Truman State University Pi Kapps participated in Ability Camp.

Ability Camp takes place in Clemson, South Carolina at the Clemson University Outdoor Lab, a summer camp for people with disabilities. The men of Pi Kapp participate in a handful of construction projects around the Outdoor Lab for a week. Milford decided to take a job working as a camp counselor after participating in the week-long construction. That was when Milford had his first direct experience with Journey of Hope.

“The camp happened to be a destination for the Journey of Hope cyclists, The Ability Experience’s biggest event. Seeing my fraternity brothers from across the country, including Truman, come together to cycle across the country for people with disabilities made me want to be one cycling the next summer for my campers.” Milford said.

Milford signed up to participate in the Journey of Hope 2015 as a cyclist seven months before the event. During this time, Milford trained and was required to raise a minimum of $5,500 dollars for The Ability Experience. There are three routes in the Journey of Hope, each starting in different locations on the west coast. The TransAmerica route starts in Seattle, Washington, the North route starts in San Francisco, California, and the South route begins in Long Beach, California. The course is completed over the course of two months. The three routes connect in Washington, DC on the same day so that the bikers can ride to the capital lawn together.

As a participant in the South route, Milford cycled for 3,750 miles. Biking across country resulted in a culmination of highs and lows.

"The most difficult day for me was our ride through Death Valley, known for being the hottest place on earth. Being the middle of June, it did not disappoint. The atmospheric temperature was 117 degrees, and probably closer to 130 degrees on the pavement we were riding on. Due to being new to cycling, I ended up racking my bike with the vans for fear of heat exhaustion. About 1/3 of the team did the same." Milford said.

For Milford, making it to Clemson, South Carolina was the most important marker of the trip. His time at the Clemson University Outdoor Lab had sparked his interest in giving back to The Ability Experience and a home away from home.

"I had never cared about finishing a ride first. I typically tried to cycle at a speed where I could have a conversation with my paceline (a group of three cyclists). But on that day, I pedaled as hard as I could for almost the entirety of the ride so that I could arrive down the camp driveway first. Unfortunately, the camp session was over, so none of my campers were there to greet me. However, the camp director and a few staff members were there. I was so excited to see them, I basically threw my bike and helmet down to run over and hug them. When I hugged Leslie, the camp director, she said, 'Welcome home', and I lost it. For the next ten minutes I was a teary-eyed mess, but I didn’t care. It was one of the greatest moments of my life." Milford said.

During his time on the journey, Milford decided he wanted to give back even more to The Ability Experience and applied for the Project Manager position for this year's Journey for Hope. He was hired on as manager of the South route, the very route he road last year. He has spent the last semester interning at the philanthropy's national office in Charlotte, North Carolina and will finish out his time in the position by being the lead crew member of the South route this summer.

"The Ability Experience has given me more purpose than any other single thing in my life. It set me on a path that has opened up the world to me in many different ways. It’s hopeless to try to talk about every insight I have gained through working with the organization." Milford said.

During his time working with The Ability Experience, Milford says he has taken away two major insights have stuck with him throughout the entire experience.

"The first is that we are all going to acquire a disability someday. Not if, but when. It could be a sudden illness, an accident, or simply growing old. The Ability Experience seeks to end the stigma of disability because at the end of the day, we are dealing with people, and that’s how we want them to be seen. We seek to give them normal experiences, where others may coddle them or look down on them. I think this is a very powerful message to send. I hope that someday when my body is not as able and my mind not as sharp, I will still be treated with the respect that every human deserves." Milford said.

Secondly, Milford has realized that the only true disability anyone can have is a bad attitude. Focusing on positivity can completely change the way the world stigmatizes people with disabilities.

"The idea of good and bad attitudes in the realm of disability is the difference between thinking, 'What CAN I do?' and 'What CAN’T I do?' The Ability Experience is the embodiment of positive attitude, because we are solely focused on what a person can do, and how we can present a new experience that allows them and others to see that ability shine." Milford said.

If you are interested in helping Jack and fellow Journey of Hope participants change the way the world sees disability, check out his personal donation page here.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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