Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Tom Tracy - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | With a newly-earned college degree in hand, Matthew George has been spending his summer not by taking it easy around the pool — but by pedaling across the country in support of people with disabilities.
A graduate of both Sts. Peter & Paul School and Immaculata-LaSalle High School in Miami, George, 23, has been making his way from Seattle to Washington, D.C. as part of a college fraternity-sponsored bicycling event called Journey of Hope. The event is in its 30th year.
Pedaling some 60 to 135 miles a day over the course of 64 days, the Miami native is part of a three-team, three-route undertaking to raise funds and awareness this summer for a host of adult and youth disabilities, both mental and physical. His team began its ride June 7 in Seattle and are expected to reach Washington, D.C., Aug. 12.
“I didn’t even get into cycling until I signed up for Journey of Hope, and now I hope to complete an Ironman (competition),” said George. He spoke with the Florida Catholic by phone from Bloomington, Ind., near the end of July. His team had taken time out to enjoy a dinner with a group of disabled youths and adults.
“Today, for example we biked 60 miles into Bloomington and we had a ‘stage-up’ arrival with our bikes and wearing our jerseys, arriving at a local nonprofit facility where we go in and play games with the disabled, and eat a sponsored meal,” he said, adding that the age range for the disabled is from youths to adults.
“All the cyclists stood with our bikes and 50 people with disabilities came outside very elated and happy to see us,” George said. “One cried. They wait for this every year, and after they greet us they invited us inside for some sloppy joes and we sat with them, mingled and played bingo.
“There was a dance floor, face painting, and I talked to a lady with cerebral palsy. That went on for several hours. Many had Down’s syndrome, some have high and low functioning autism,” he added.
George noted that he is taking the so-called TransAmerica route, one of three Journey of Hope cross-country routes. Each team consists of some 30 riders as well as eight crew members who support the cyclists with logistics and safety measures along the way.
With the support of family and friends, George said he personally raised more than $5,500 in contributions that will support charity outreach to people with disabilities through the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity charitable program. The whole team and the overall undertaking aspires to raise a total of more than $700,000 this year.
George said he credits his Catholic education for instilling some of the virtues that set the stage for his summer adventure.
“The high school I went to prides itself on giving back to the community. I am a lucky guy and I have a great father and the least I can do is reach out and help others,” George said.
His father, noted Miami historian Paul George, is a member of Sts. Peter & Paul Parish. He told the Florida Catholic that all three of his children benefited from Catholic education and that Matthew has always been an exceptional athlete. The two boys in the family were also altar servers.
“I think it is fabulous what he is doing. It takes endurance,” George said of his son. “His best friend had done this ride last year, and there was a fiduciary investment on our part but we really like the event.”
“We made the sacrifice of sending them to Catholic schools because we felt it was worth it. The values have always been there. He has so much integrity,” he added.
Matthew, a biology major, said he isn’t absolutely certain what he wants to do following his Journey of Hope ride, but he expects to come home to Miami and seek a career in either sales or something related to wildlife and the environment.
“I may also do some video blogging in terms of educating people about wildlife in an adventure-show format, as well fishing, camping, hiking, bicycling,” he said.
George said he will certainly have some adventures to talk about following this summer’s charity ride.
Seated on his nine-speed Domane brand trek bike and often hitting speeds of 50 mph, he recalled a few memorable days during the early portions of the journey in the Northwest, including the ride from West Yellowstone in Montana to Jackson Hole in Wyoming.
“We climbed Grand Teton Pass on backcountry roads and it was breathtaking,” he said. “We started out that morning at 4:30 a.m., when it was 30 degrees out, and my fingers were totally numb, literally frozen — it was scary as it took about an hour for my hands to thaw.
“We also climbed Mount Rainier on our second day. We were so high up there was sleet and cold rain, snow everywhere around us,” he said. “We stopped and got into a snowball fight.”
Most of the travel is on back roads but it encompasses interstate highways as well, he noted. The support crew drive ahead of the riders, marking turns and providing food and drink to the team.
“You have to dig deep and realize who you are riding for and what is important and that is what keeps you going,” George said.