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NMSU student cycles across nation to benefit programs for people with disabilities

"Until you've done it, you really don't know" what it's like bike-riding through 32 different states and 180 different cities in a span of just 70 days.

New Mexico State University student Isaac Polanco participated in a cross-country bicycle trek over the summer for Push America, a charity organization which helps raise awareness for programs for disabled people. Polanco represented his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, and encouraged others in his fraternity to participate in summer 2009 along with him. (NMSU Photo by Robert Yee)

That's what Isaac Polanco, vice president of Associated Students at New Mexico State University, has to say of his recent cross-country bike trek for charity. Polanco participated in Push America's Journey of Hope over the summer and has made it his goal, in his last year at NMSU, to motivate his fraternity brothers to dedicate hours to the cause.

The Journey of Hope is an annual cross-country bicycling trip sponsored by Push America, a nonprofit organization with a mission to fundraise and increase awareness of programs for individuals who are disabled. Undergraduates and alumni of Pi Kappa Phi fraternities nationwide have participated in this ride since 1987, according to the organization's Web site. Polanco was one of the first in the Eta Omega chapter at NMSU to make the trip with his100 team members this summer.

"I was the first from NMSU and my chapter," Polanco said. "But, it's got to start somewhere." He raised $5,500 for the cause over a one-year span. He cycled across the nation with his team making various stops to visit with participants of summer camps for the disabled, Special Olympics athletes and others who wait for the yearly Journey of Hope visit. Since his journey, Polanco has felt very humbled and realized the meaning of college and the experiences with his fraternity.

"College just isn't about the classes...it's about experiences like this one, how you lived and learned and how you served. If not 'Hope' then (people should) pick something else," he said. Weeks after his return, he's still "feeling it," and is keeping in touch with friends he made along the way via the Internet. In fact, friends and family were able to observe his progress as he made his journey from San Francisco to Washington D.C., through journal updates and photo albums he created on Facebook.

For Polanco, there were many "unforgettable" moments from the start of the ride leading off the Golden Gate Bridge to the final 20-mile homestretch through downtown Washington D.C.

There were times, he said, "you're just dying on the bike, and you're almost there...it's then you're rewarded with the view of a waterfall, lake or endless mountain range. It was all so animated, like being in a movie."

A memorable 12-hour ride through Kirkwood, Calif., included eight summits followed by a 15-mile downhill in which Polanco reached his fastest speed of the trip at 62 mph.

"Nothing can compare," he said, still in awe weeks later.

His main inspiration during the trip was his family and his fraternity because "they and my teammates kept me going," he said. As a reminder, Polanco had pictures of his family and fraternity house affixed to a bar on his bicycle.

Push America was founded by members of Pi Kappa Phi in1977, and the organization's goals fit the exclusive philanthropy service-learning project for the fraternity. The group mission is to instill lifelong service in its members and enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Polanco, 21, studies communications and Spanish at NMSU and currently serves as the vice president of Associated Students at NMSU. He has been active with Pi Kappa Phi - Eta Omega Chapter for three years as the fraternity's philanthropy chair. He is a former student body president and a 2005 graduate of Las Cruces Mayfield High School.

He and about six others from his fraternity have made the commitment this year to fundraise, help build "no limits" playgrounds and/or cycle next summer. Polanco will also take part in Push America's "Gear Up Florida" ride for two weeks from Miami to Tallahassee prior to the next Journey of Hope.

For more information about how to donate to Push America or become involved visit www.pushamerica.org