WKU fraternity brothers raise money for Alzheimer’s

Bike4Alz is biking from International Falls, Minn., to Key West, Fla., over the course of two months this summer in order to raise money for Alzheimer’s.The group members pictured are (front from left) Josh Amos, John WIlliam Owen, (back from left) Austin Lanter, Ben Harris, Dylan Ward and Will Garcia. They have ridden bikes all their lives, but it wasn’t until they decided to go on this trip that any of them purchased road bikes or began training for a long-distance trip.

Monica Spees

Louisville sophomore Will Owens had more on his mind than going to class and hanging out with newfound friends when he came to college.

“I wanted to leave college a better person than when I came in,” Owens said.

When he became a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, or FIJI, he found an opportunity to do just that.

From May to July 2010, several FIJI brothers rode their bikes from California to Virginia in “FIJIs Across America,” a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association.

The group raised $56,000, half of which went to local Alzheimer’s chapters, the other half going to national Alzheimer’s research.

Owens and his fraternity have decided they want to revive the charitable ride for this summer.

From May 25 to about July 20, a group of FIJIs will bike from International Falls, Minn., to Key West, Fla., hitting 13 major metropolitan areas along the way and dedicating each day to someone who the disease has affected. This year’s ride is called Bike4Alz.

Owens, who is in charge of media relations, said they decided to take the fraternity’s name out of the title in order to dissuade people from being hesitant to give or thinking only FIJIs could participate. He said tacking a name onto the title was not the important element of the ride.

“People are kind of scared to talk about Alzheimer’s,” Owens said. “We’re trying to get people more comfortable with talking about it.”

The 12 riders participating in Bike4Alz have set their donations goal at $175,000, which is $100,000 more than FIJIs Across America’s goal two years ago.

Louisville sophomore Will Garcia, whose job it is to plan fundraising and get sponsorships for the ride, admitted that the ride and the monetary goal are going to be challenging.

“We can’t decide which is more intimidating, almost 3,000 miles or raising $175,000,” Garcia said.

To make the ride more physically feasible, Owens and Garcia both said they have been training. Garcia said he’s been training with his dad for nearly a year.

“It’s good extra motivation, because you don’t like it when your 50-year-old dad is beating you up hills,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he and his mom stayed up at night over spring break to make Bike4Alz buttons that the fraternity will be selling for $2 as a part of the fundraising.

Owens said his family has also been very supportive of his endeavor. At Christmas, they gave him donations to go toward Alzheimer’s research.

Elizabethtown senior Tyler Jury first came up with the idea for FIJIs Across America as a result of his own grandfather being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005.

“Alzheimer’s takes someone you love and alters their mind and turns them into somebody you don’t even know,” Jury said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 5.4 million people have the disease, and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Jury said he thought about several possibilities of things he could do to honor his grandfather, such as a 5K run in his hometown. But it was on a trip to Japan in summer 2008 that Jury made a bucket list on which he included biking across America. He said the two desires merged into one.

When riding in 2010, Jury said the 3,200-mile trip was physically taxing, but the reason they were riding kept the group going.

“When we put our front wheel in the sand in Yorktown, there wasn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, so we all said we still weren’t finished,” Jury said.

Although Jury can’t participate in the entire trip this year, he praised his fraternity brothers for continuing their work to better their community, something he said he encourages all of his brothers to do, even if it’s not Bike4Alz.

Garcia said he hopes people can see that they’re not just biking for themselves or for their fraternity but also for WKU.

“I hope (Bike4Alz) builds into something the whole university can get behind,” Garcia said.

Owens said preparing for this ride has helped prime him for other challenges that may come his way later in life. He said he’s excited to have the chance to bike across the country for a worthy cause.

“I hope my ride can have the same effect on the guys coming up in the fraternity as FIJIs Across America had on me and inspire them to do something great,” Owens said.