By Mallory Sherwood, Managing Editor
Twenty members of Gamma Sigma Phi will embark at 2 p.m. Friday on a 1,200-mile bike ride across the southwest on route to Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. Riders expect to arrive in California by mid-morning Monday after riding continuously from Abilene, all so they can raise money for a foundation researching “brittle bone” disease.
“It’s not about riding a bike to California,” said Cole Griffith, senior accounting major from Nashville, Tenn. “It’s about helping kids who can’t ride a bike because their bones break, so they can do it one day.”
Fundraising for members of GSP usually occurs every two years. This year though, members hope to change that and begin a new tradition that involves raising money for organizations every year.
“This is what club is about,” Griffith said. “I personally hope we can break tradition and do this every year. We have enough guys in club that can take the initiative. It’s the coolest thing to realize you are accomplishing something and changing lives.”
Last spring members of GSP played a world record-breaking 60-hour softball game to raise money to build a Habitat for Humanity house.
Although the men aren’t expecting to break any records this time, they do hope to change a life, including a life in Abilene.
Justin Scott, senior political science major from Whitehouse, said Mark Phillips, assistant professor of management, approached the men last semester.
“[He] asked if we were going to do something this year to raise money, if we would do it for the OIFoundation,” Scott said. “He has a 10-year-old son, Matt, who has osteogenesis imperfecta and is in a wheelchair. We knew we wanted to do this bike ride this year and this was the perfect idea to be able to help out.”
Griffith said the foundation has little money for research, which means it can’t find a cure. With the donations from friends, family members and the Abilene community, he said he hopes money can be raised to start a new research project to find a cure to help children like Matt.
When Matt Phillips was born, his parents knew something was wrong.
“We had never heard of the disease and never suspected anything would be wrong when he was born,” Phillips said. “Just after he was born, the doctors knew he had OI because he had fractures throughout his body.”
OI, osteogenesis imperfecta, is a genetic disorder that affects only one in 20,000 people. The disease is characterized by the fact that those who have it break bones while performing routine actions, or in Matt Phillips’ case, even before they are born.
Matt Phillips, the second child in the family, has type 3 OI, a common type which means his bones fracture easily; he is short in stature and could have bone deformity, brittle teeth and hearing loss. His condition is not fatal though, like other types of OI, and he can still do normal activities as long as he has his service dog, Hali.
Matt has been confined to a wheelchair since he was two years old, said Mark Phillips, and he just received a new wheelchair this year.
“Matt does really well in dealing with the fractures,” Mark Phillips said. “He gets discouraged sometimes, but I would say nine out of 10 days he is optimistic and happy.”
Mark Phillips said Matt, a fourth-grader at Wylie Elementary, normally has three to four fractures in a year, but they have stopped counting. For many people with OI, they could have as few or as many as 300 fractures in a lifetime.
“Normal activities that would be no big deal to us, like catching a ball or even throwing a ball, would break a bone in Matt,” he said.
No cure exists for OI, although researchers continue to search for one. Foundations like the OIFoundation are national organizations that provide support for people and their families with the disease, as well as research and education, Mark Phillips said. He said one promising research is gene therapy. He said researchers are trying to locate the gene that actually causes bones to form incorrectly, so they can either repair or replace it.
For now, people like Matt can either watch what they do or have surgery to place metal rods along the long bones in the body, mainly leg and arm bones, Mark Phillips said.
Matt Phillips, the inspiration behind GSP’s fundraiser, will be present when the group leaves Friday and will talk with the men before they leave for California.
“He’s pretty excited about the whole idea,” Mark Phillips said. “He loves fundraisers and loves the idea of them riding bikes.”
Two groups of 10 men will leave from the circle drive in front of the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies building, each person riding 10 miles at a time before switching with another member of the group. While one person rides, the other members of the group follow behind in a car and in front of the rider in a truck that carries additional bikes.
“It sounds really crazy to say we’re riding bikes to California in two and a half days, but members of our group did this in 2003, so we know it can be done,” Scott said.
Scott will be the first GSP member to ride Friday, and he will head towards Brownsfield. By the time they reach Brownsfield, which is nearly 200 miles away, all members of group one will have each rode 20 miles. Meanwhile, group two will be catching up on sleep so they can begin their leg of the journey in Brownsfield around 10 or 11 p.m.
Because of federal law and safety reasons, the bikers will not ride on interstates. Instead, they have closely followed the path set up by previous members of GSP. The main cities they will travel through include: Roswell and Globe, N.M., Datil and Phoenix, Ariz., and Beaumont, Calif.
Griffith, one of three leaders of the trip, said once in California, the bikers will ride south of Los Angeles and up the Pacific Coast Highway through Laguna Beach to Malibu, their final destination.
After Monday, the men will enjoy the sights of Malibu and the hospitality of those who live there.
“We have been so blessed throughout this whole process,” Scott said. “People have said they’ll open their homes to us to feed us; Pepperdine is housing us and giving us one meal a day, and other students from Abilene who live there have talked to their parents about having us over for dinner and to church.”
The group also has tickets to go to the game show The Price is Right.
“If one of us has the opportunity to go on stage and play, and Bob Barker asks us what we’re doing in California, think of what an incredible opportunity to raise awareness of OI,” Griffith said. “We can say, ‘Twenty of us rode a bike from Abilene, Texas, to raise money for the OIFoundation.’ That would do more for the foundation than we can imagine.”
When spring break ends, the men will ride home in vehicles instead of bike riding.
Lending a hand
Since members of GSP began collecting donations for the OIFoundation, more than $5,000 has been raised, Scott said. He said the club didn’t set a goal for how much money it wanted to raise, and members didn’t have to reach a set amount either.
This is partly because they didn’t want to limit themselves, and also because the fundraising could continue throughout the semester, he said.
“The bike ride is only one part of this thing,” Scott said. “When we get back, we also want to maybe set up a ping pong tournament in Bennett Gym where students could play ping pong to continue raising money.
All proceeds donated will go directly to the OIFoundation for further research on the disease.
Scott said members sent letters and asked friends and family to donate money. A club member also set up a Paypal account on GSP’s Web site where people can donate money online using credit cards. The Web site is www.gsp-kinsmen.com.
“Everyone has been very supportive,” Scott said. “We’ve raised $5,000 so far, and money keeps coming in every day.”
In addition to money raised by members sending letters or by members asking others to donate, other social clubs on campus also have donated more than $1,000 to the fundraiser.
“This is such a neat memory to have,” Scott said: “riding a bike to California with some of my best friends so we can raise money for kids who won’t have the chance to even ride a bike.”
Comments are closed