They left San Francisco on bicycles at the beginning of April. 50 days, 3,700 miles, 12 states, 16 cities, and nearly $130,000 of fundraising later, the 21 participants in the "Ride for World Health" pedaled into Washington, DC, their legs weary, their journey finally over but the memories -- and emotions -- running strong.
"Heading to the East coast and the Atlantic Ocean was much more of an emotional experience than I had thought it would be," said Andy Wagner, an Ohio State medical student and Ride for World Health executive director. "We started off, for the most part, as strangers, but as we finished, we were really kind of a family of 21."
The cyclists, most of them medical students like Wagner, including eight from Ohio State alone, set out on their transcontinental trek to raise awareness about pressing issues in global and local healthcare through a carefully developed "Coast-to-Coast Lecture Series" at medical and community centers along the route. The final ceremony took place at another medical center: that of Howard University in Washington, D.C.
"It's touching to meet all of these students who rode, particularly in the context of Howard Medical Center," said Ed Cardoza, Vice President for Development at Partners In Health, who spoke on PIH work in Haiti and Rwanda at the event. "It was an institution established to help out in the ruins of the civil war and to treat a population of mostly freed slaves that were making their way up into the Washington, D.C. area."
At the beginning of their journey, Ride 4 World Health had planned to donate all the fundraising proceeds to Partners In Health, minus the operating costs of this year’s ride and $10,000 to prepare for next year’s. In total, they ended up raising nearly $130,000, of which Partners In Health will receive $80,000. Wagner, however, is quick to add that "donations are still coming in and we're still collecting."
"As the project got a lot bigger and the scope increased we kept raising the fundraising goal," Wagner said. "Fundraising is a tough gig, as I'm sure everyone at Partners in Health knows. But it's pretty exciting to build an organization from scratch that is actually self-perpetuating."
"Andrew did a really good job at focusing on more than just the bike ride and the fundraising," said Cardoza. "He put together an organization that strove to mobilize medical students around common causes, and used it as an opportunity to educate people around the country on HIV and AIDS and global health issues. It's an incredible thing to accomplish."
Particularly special for Wagner and seven others was their stop in Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate an officially dedicated "Global Health Day" at Ohio State University Medical School.
"It was really nice to see a medical center get behind global health in a way they haven't in the past," Wagner said. "We actually taught 400 or so of OSU's medical students for four hours that day, and I think that's where you can make the biggest impact, through trying to inspire the next generation of medical students on issues like these.
Not to mention, to cap off the day, we had the president from the American Medical Association speak about domestic issues like the uninsured problems in the United States. It was definitely the ultimate moment of the whole trip... and of course, it's my home town."
As Wagner graduates, he passes the torch of executive officer to Brock Andreatta, another cyclist in Ride for World Health. "R4WH currently has six of nine positions filled for next year" Andreatta wrote in an email. "We are still recruiting for Directors of Marketing, Finance, and Sponsorship/Fundraising."
This year, Partners In Health was the beneficiary group for Ride for World Health. Next year, the new leadership will let other non-profits apply for sponsorship. Yet money, for Wagner, was never the focus of the cross-country ride. "The money is one thing and its important," he said, "but I think that the biggest part of the Ride 4 World Health is the idea of creating cultural change and having people look at HIV and malaria as things that we can change. Having Partners in Health behind us in this, a global organization devoted to the same cause, was critical."
"People are always asking, ‘What can I do, what can I do?’" said Cardoza. "Here's another example of how people, particularly students, can get creative and help. These med students took this all on themselves. They asked what would be the ideal. I told them, and they truly delivered."
To learn more about Ride for World Health or to donate to the cause, go to www.ride4worldhealth.org.
On the road: Ride for World Health cyclists at Bryce Canyon, Utah.