Months before the planning, the fundraising and the physical training began, a simple question got their gears turning:
“Do you want to bike across America?”
When Brock Schauer posed the question to his cousin, Joe Berger, a high jumper at the University of Mary, and friend Devin Coyle, a defensive back on the University of North Dakota football team, the three became determined to make the idea a reality. Why? They yearned to do something to assist people with cancer, including Schauer’s mother, who battles stage IV Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. It didn’t matter that the three men from Mandan, North Dakota, had little cycling experience, or that the journey from their home state to Florida would stretch for 2,500 miles.
“Everybody’s affected by cancer in some shape or form,” Berger said. “It really hits home.”
Berger, Coyle and Schauer formed Bike2Believe and set the goal of raising $400,000 for the Bismarck Cancer Center Foundation and an additional $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. They planned a bike route that would take them from Bismarck to St. Petersburg, Florida, and incorporate a dozen stops at hospitals to visit cancer patients. They created a website, amassed thousands of followers on social media and shared their story on the radio. They distributed t-shirts, garnered sponsorships and were recognized by politicians including North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
“Right when we said we were doing this, we said it’s got to be huge,” Berger, a business administration and marketing major, noted. “When we put our mind to something, we do it, and we do it as hard as we can.”
On May 31, community members gathered in Bismarck to see the Bike2Believe trio off on their cross-country trek. Averaging 70-75 miles a day, the men – followed by a support vehicle and camper – traveled through Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and Atlanta on their way to the Sunshine State.
Georgia, with its heat, humidity and hills, was the hardest portion of the ride, Coyle said; all six of the group’s tires popped while riding through the state. At other points in the journey, heavy rain, swarming mosquitoes and minor falls tested the fledgling riders. Still, Coyle said the trek was easier than they expected, due in large part to the personal connections they made along the way.
“It was easy for us to stay inspired and ride each day when you met people who were fighting for their lives, literally, every day,” he said.
Again and again, the men were struck by the welcoming and uplifting nature of those they encountered. They were greeted on the street with banners when they arrived at the Franciscan St. Francis Health Cancer Center in Indianapolis. At their next stop, in Louisville, the cyclists visited Camp Gilda, where they sang, danced and ate lunch with kids whose lives have been altered by cancer.
“It was so eye-opening for us, how positive these people are constantly, even if they have to wake up and get chemotherapy or radiation,” Coyle said. “When we set out on this journey, we wanted to inspire people. We ended up being the ones inspired by them.”
Berger, Coyle and Schauer reached their final destination in 34 days. They rode straight to the white sand of Florida’s Clearwater Beach, stepped off their bikes and ran into the Gulf of Mexico, both waves and emotions washing over them.
In total, Bike2Believe raised $226,000. Of that, 80 percent will be donated to the Bismarck Cancer Center Foundation and the rest will be given to the American Cancer Society. The men will continue to accept donations until Christmas.
Soon, Berger and Coyle will return to their respective schools and teams, the all-day bike rides fading to summer memories. Coyle might ride to class on occasion, he said. But riding across the country again? That might have been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
“But,” Coyle added, “you never know.”