Sophomore Eric Vander Lee couldn’t remember when his passion for biking began, but his current love for the sport along with his desire to help those in need has culminated in a planned 4,295 mile cross-country tour set to kick off this summer.
Vander Lee said he had been contemplating the idea of going on a long-term biking trip for quite a while, but this goal didn’t become serious until the summer of 2013 when he was living in Rapid City.
“Life was throwing me some pretty serious curveballs back then, and I used the biking as a sort of therapy,” Vander Lee said. “ It was a nice escape.”
He recounted one specific moment from his time of soul-searching that he knew he would never forget.
“I was listening to a story about a man that was struggling with his faith and questioning whether or not he believed in God,” Vander Lee said. “I remember listening to that podcast from my bike and just feeling like I’ve never related more to a person. It was just one of those things I can’t fully explain. I stopped dead in my tracks, and it was like my mind had just made the decision. The seed had been planted, and there was really no going back. I was going to do it.”
For Vander Lee, biking has always held an inherent, personal significance other than simply a form of exercise.
“Biking has always been sort of symbolic for always getting back up and trying again after a huge fall,” he said. “And I guess you could say this trip is the ultimate get-up. I just refuse to let the problems of my past define me. And maybe this is just me proving that to myself in some very exaggerated way.”
In order to make his dream a reality, Vander Lee joined a team of 28 other cyclists from across America who will be making the trip together. The organization, Bike the US for MS, coordinates cross-country bike trips that raise awareness for multiple sclerosis research and sets up volunteer work to help patients who suffer from this degenerative disease.
Throughout the journey, the team will be doing service projects to help people who are currently living with MS along with donating a dollar for every mile biked to organizations such as The National MS Society and Swedish MS Center, Vander Lee said. Vander Lee has currently raised around $700 and is still working on fundraising the rest.
“What I really liked about this team was that it was more than just handing over a check,” he said. “I’ll be able to do hands-on work to help better the lives of others. That’s what really gets me fired up about this trip.”
Vander Lee became a zealous advocate for Multiple Sclerosis after meeting people who currently suffer from the disease. He said listening to stories of lives suddenly ripped apart by MS was both devastating and convicting, compelling him to act.
“I want to use my healthy body to give something to those that are sick,” Vander Lee said. “There are so many things in life that I don’t deserve, and I guess I just think it would be a tragedy not to go out there and use what I’ve been given to help other people.”
Vander Lee and his team of bike riders will travel along a route called the North Tier, starting in Ban Harbor, Maine and ending in Seattle, Wash. In all, the journey will take 69 days and cover 15 states.
In order to prepare for his trip, Vander Lee has stuck to a rigorous training regimen that includes running, swimming, lifting and, of course, biking. He has also compiled over 70 hours of audiobooks to keep him entertained and motivated for the long road ahead.
Vander Lee said he hopes his adventure will inspire others to tackle their own dreams and step out of their comfort zone.
“I think too often we get into this cookie cutter mindset in regards to how we’re going to live our lives,” he said. “Sometimes we need to leave that template behind and go for something big. It’s important to take some time to evaluate the legitimacy of the limitations that your brain has constructed. You’ll find yourself capable and willing to do incredible things.”
To learn more about Bike the US for MS, visit www. http://www.biketheusforms.org.