Waking up at 5 am every morning, packing up one duffel bag and riding anywhere from 75 to 115 miles a day does not sound like an average summer vacation. However, that was Cole Cunningham’s reality this summer, and it was all for The Ability Experience and the Journey of Hope ride.
Cole Cunningham is a recent Boise State graduate with a degree in marketing and an alum of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Over this break, he rode 4,350 miles in 63 days and ended the ride with his 24 teammates in Washington D.C. on Aug. 10.
Once all the riders finished their morning prayer, team manager James Maloney would send the men off in groups of four every two minutes. Maloney is a Pi Kappa Phi alum, like Cunningham, and decided to manage the team throughout their summer journey.
“It is a huge accomplishment for these guys. I think (about) how much easier it is to write that English paper that you have been struggling with or that lab that has been difficult after you know that you have brought your bike across the entire country,” Maloney said. “They gain a huge level of personal confidence and they know they are capable of more.”
The route the team members would be riding were scouted out beforehand by Maloney to ensure the conditions were OK to ride. Each day, the team would end their ride at a friendship visit, where they would stop and meet people with disabilities.
“Once you get to where you’re supposed to be going, like hanging out at a friendship visit that day and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, that makes it all worth it,” Cunningham said. “And that’s what I realized; this is what it’s all about.”
The visits consisted of everything from karaoke and pizza parties to hanging out and playing games, according to Cunningham. The team made sure to involve everyone and have a time they would never forget.
“Every single time we showed up to an organization, someone would say, ‘You know, you guys don’t realize how much we look forward to you guys coming and hanging out with us,’” Cunningham said. “It’s almost better than Christmas for us.”
Most of the men on the team did not know each other before the ride, but at the finish line, they were family. Chael Williams, a junior public relations major at the University of Southern Mississippi became close to Cunningham and, although riders are not supposed to ride in groups of less than three, Williams and Cunningham were able to have a ride to themselves.
“We got to have talks about faith and spirituality, as well as talks about careers,” Williams said. “(Cole) was at the stage of life where he was about to go and start his career, and so that was pretty cool to kind of mutually ease each other’s anxieties.”
After riding 115 miles, the last thing the teammates wanted to do was get back on a bike the next day to do it all again. Having a community of riders that supported each other and understood what the others were going through, however, made it worth it to Cunningham.
“I’m proud to say that I have 24 new friends from all over the country who I can reach out to if I’m ever traveling or whatnot and need somewhere to stay,” Cunningham said. “I know that I could reach out to any one of those guys and they’d be willing to help me out.”
Cunningham raised the second highest amount of money for his page out of all three teams, raising just over $13,000. He received the Outstanding Fundraising Award and had support from both Boise State students and the Boise community. A local business in Boise, Kount, donated $3,300 alone to The Ability Experience.
“I’m super grateful for all of the support from Boise State and the entire Boise community,” Cunningham said. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to fundraise that much for the Ability Experience if it wasn’t for everyone.”
The final destination for all three teams was the Capitol lawn in Washington D.C., and they arrived in formations of two. Due to Cunningham’s entire team raising the most money compared to the other two teams, they were able to ride in first to the finish line.
Cunningham’s team raised $30,960 in the two months they were on the road, and it was the most money raised in the history of The Ability Experience. With the funds raised, they were able to give out 15 grants to the organizations they met with over the summer.
“It was a ton of hard work and it was pretty exhausting at times, but it was definitely worth it. I don’t regret anything, and it was just an experience of a lifetime,” Cunningham said. “It was an amazing experience and something I will never forget.”