CSU graduates Mark Kowalik and Kristen DeMint got on their bikes in May and rode 4,400 miles across the country.
Every arduous mile, over the Cascades, the Rockies and the Ozark mountains, from Oregon to the finish line in Yorktown, Virginia, was for the children of Northern Uganda, whose education is threatened daily by the country’s 23-year civil war.
The duo’s post-graduation adventure, for which they pitched tents and bunked in local’s homes wherever the road led them and pushed through the stretches of both mental and physical exhaustion daily, brought in $6,745 for Invisible Children’s Schools For Schools Program.
The program involves more than 1,500 middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout America. Cumulatively, these schools have already raised $363,353 that will be distributed to 10 schools in Northern Uganda to help improve the quality of education and associated infrastructures, according to a press release from the cycling team.
This money will go directly to scholarships for children needing to attend Gulu High School, which Kowalik and DeMint were assigned to as part of the regional Invisible Children competition.
Coincidentally, along the road, Kowalik and DeMint ran into a pair of English students from Oxford, who were cycling cross-country to raise money for cancer, and a man in Kentucky riding to raise funds to subsidize kids’ summer camp costs.
“We got to share with everyone who were passionate about helping kids,” Kowalik said in a phone interview from Chicago where he is talking to schools to encourage students to get involved with Invisible Children. “It’s neat how it really worked.”
The couple rode for 80 days and took only three off.
Transporting a trailer and 20 to 25 pound saddlepacks with tools and only two of everything — two pairs of underwear, two sets of spandex, two bicycling jerseys an two pairs of rain-proof pants — the journey was the ultimate challenge.
A paraplegic man “pedaling with his hands” through Missouri’s Ozark Mountain Range while pulling a trailer and wheelchair served as an inspiration to both graduates who faced periods of great physical challenge throughout the ride.
“Both of us, riding 4400 miles, we never got off our bikes no matter how hard the climb was, we never put our foot on the ground, we never got off,” Kowalik said.
Now, months after both decided to undergo the charity tour, Kowalik and DeMint are waiting to hear before the end of the month whether or not they have raised the largest amount of money in the Western region. Ultimately, one of the two could win a trip to visit Gulu High School to see their efforts manifest in a future for the Ugandan children.
The focus of Invisible Children, Kowalik said, is on the youth of America, to push them to come up with unique strategies to raise awareness and money for the organization.
“I feel like I’m an old person, an old-timer within the organization,” he said. “The focus is on the youth, the kids are behind it.”
News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.