The cycling trek lasts just days, but the lives touched along the Gear Up Florida route will never forget Pi Kappa Phi members like Ryan Jeffords. The Northwestern State University junior led a team of 35 cyclists across Florida to re-shape the perception of people with disabilities.
On May 13, 2012, this 800-mile 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.
As a crew member, Jeffords was responsible for all finances from team expenses to the grants presented to organizations. He also oversaw the safety of cyclists by marking turns along each leg of the route, providing first aid if needed, and managed hydration and meals for the team. “I could not feel more honored to have the opportunity to raise awareness and take part in something so philanthropic.”
Gear Up Florida’s programming is what makes this event so unique. Every event is 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. As a crew member, Jeffords focused on helping others understand Push America’s mission. “I want everyone to know that people with disabilities have incredible abilities. It’s all about understanding and empathy. Using people-first language is a great start,” Jeffords said.
Every Gear Up Florida team member has one stop that will stick with them for a lifetime. For Jeffords, it is the Russell Home in Orlando. “Seeing this family open up their home to others is incredible,” he said. He spent much of the visit with Amy, a 35-year-old born without a brain stem. Jeffords said he knew there was a real connection with her each time he spoke her name. “This friendship visit will forever hold a place in my heart.”
Recent Gear Up Florida participants from the Beta Omicron Chapter at NSU joined friends and family members waiting for this year’s team to arrive in Tallahassee on May 26. Past crew member Chase Harvey and two-time cyclist Cameron Moises were cheering as the team ended their trek at the steps of the Florida State Capitol. Moises said it was important to show support for Jeffords and the lasting mission of the project. “This trip means so much to Ryan, so the least we can do is show that we support him in everything he does as our brother.”
As the chapter President, Jeffords would like to explore opportunities with local organizations to improve the quality of life for those with disabilities. He hopes that members involvement in Push America will help others in the Natchitoches community recognize the abilities of those with disabilities. “It’s not just about impacting the lives of others. You’ll be amazed how these friendships can have a profound effect on yours.”
Gear Up Florida was created with one mission in mind: to reach out to as many people as possible across the State of Florida, spreading a message of acceptance and understanding on behalf of people with disabilities. Since 1997, over 300 Pi Kappa Phi members have participated in Gear Up Florida.
[Portions of this article from www.pushamerica.org]