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Cross Their Hearts

Duo bring attention to relationship violence in fellow Virginia lacrosse player’s memory

Ryan Lukacovic (left) and Michael Rhoads spent seven weeks cycling across the country. SUBMITTED BY MICHAEL RHOADS

University of Virginia student-athletes Ryan Lukacovic and Michael Rhoads took up riding for a reason.

In July, the pair of lacrosse players and cycling novices finished a seven-week cross-country bicycle journey from Charlottesville, Virginia, to San Francisco that raised funds and awareness for the One Love Foundation, which educates students about the dangers of relationship violence and works to empower them to take action.

The One Love Foundation was created in memory of Yeardley Love, a Virginia senior lacrosse player who was murdered in 2010 just weeks before her graduation. Love was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend, who also competed in lacrosse at Virginia. Her mother and sister created the foundation.

More acts of kindness:

  • Coaching more than kicking: Emory & Henry College kicking coach Doug Blevins, a former NFL assistant, was shadowed by 11-year-old coaching hopeful Jack Bolton during spring practice. Jack, who uses a wheelchair, sees coaching as a way to be part of the game he loves. He spent two days learning the ropes from Blevins, who knows firsthand the challenges Jack faces. The two connected after Jack met a former Emory & Henry football player at the Super Bowl in February.
  • A real ace off the court: University of Arkansas middle blocker Breana Jones helped organize a volleyball team cosmetics drive last season that raised more than $1,400 in cash donations and supplies for the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, where she volunteered two or three times per month. Jones, a senior who has a 3.636 cumulative GPA as an elementary education major, spent five to 10 hours per week as a student teacher at two local schools where she and teammates also volunteer to read to children.
  • Fundraising with facial hair: East Carolina University hosted its 13th annual Keith LeClair Classic in March to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s Disease and to honor the former East Carolina baseball coach who lost his battle with the disease in 2006. This year, the baseball team added a “Mustache March” and raised $4,500 in donations for the Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS Foundation.

Rhoads says he and Lukacovic chose to dedicate the trip to One Love because of the school’s previous support of Yards for Yeardley, which challenges sports teams to run 1 million yards to raise money and awareness for One Love. The men became aware of the foundation after watching a film called “Escalation” as part of One Love’s educational efforts to help students understand behaviors that lead to abuse and empower them to take action when they witness it.

“We were just so excited that we might actually raise enough money to make a big difference with One Love, so they can continue with classes and raising awareness with different colleges and sports teams, and fraternities and sororities,” Rhoads says. “It made the trip a lot more fulfilling each day and night when you saw $100 or $200 going in to help One Love.”

The students worked with the athletics department at Virginia to ensure their fundraising efforts complied with NCAA rules – including making sure all the funds go to the charity and that One Love reimburses the student-athletes for their on-the-road expenses. Nearly $16,000 has been raised through a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/1onelove1.

Sharon Robinson, Love’s cousin and vice chair of the One Love board, applauded the pair’s effort. “We are incredibly proud of Mike and Ryan for raising awareness about One Love and standing up for our mission to promote healthy relationships,” Robinson says. “We are grateful to have them as a part of Team One Love.”

Each day, the pair logged 60 to 90 miles, sometimes battling harsh weather conditions. Extreme winds and temperatures reaching more than 100 degrees daily made Kansas the toughest part of the ride, and getting three flat tires in one morning when biking through the Utah mountains was another defining moment. On the final day of their trek, they hopped aboard the San Francisco Bay Ferry, happily exhausted.

“Looking back, I would never change anything because it’s just such a unique trip – each part of the trip had its challenges and fun memories,” Rhoads says.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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