Making wishes come true
Former Foundation Fellow leaves high finance and makes cross-country trek
Everyday charity donors typically undertake modest physical challenges to raise funds for local causes, such as a 5K jog around town. Not Joe Lariscy, who graduated in 2007 with a degree in finance.
Joe, along with two buddies, rode his bicycle across the United States—from San Francisco to St. Simons Island—to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that helps children with life-threatening medical conditions fulfill their wishes. The trip covered 3,600 miles and took the men eight weeks.
“I wanted to go on an adventure and support a great cause,” Lariscy says.
The notion of giving back to society came from undergraduate experiences with the Foundation Fellows and the Leonard Leadership Scholar program, Lariscy says. Community service projects through those programs included gutting houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and serving at the Athens Performance Learning Center, an alternative high school.
The physical challenges of a cross-country road trip were daunting, Lariscy admits, even for a competitive tennis player.
“Crossing the Continental Divide was a big milestone,” he says. “We climbed to an elevation of 11,500 feet in Colorado. Going downhill with a tailwind and the weight of my backpack, I hit 52 mph, which was exhilarating and scary. On our longest day, we biked 116 miles in about 10 hours. Luckily we had few mechanical problems and no sickness.”
The scenery from the road was gorgeous, he says.
“This trip really opened my eyes to the beauty of our country,” he says. “I discovered a lot of small-town America, places like Telluride, Colo. People along the way were incredibly generous, treating us to meals and putting us up. I flew an American flag on my bike that many people responded to—it made me realize why this country is so great. I’m very thankful for the friendships that developed.”
The friends paid their own way and camped out five of seven nights each week.
“We ate in diners and stayed in cheap motels to have hot showers” the other two nights of the week, he says. “Biking alone for hours at a time was great for introspection and reflection on what I want to do next. I also lost 20 pounds and got a jump-start on a healthy lifestyle.”
Over the eight weeks, donations got close to the goal of $25,000—enough to grant three children their wishes.
“The trip took a lot of planning, preparation and training. We set out to fulfill a dream—biking across the country and helping children make their wishes come true. We accomplished both goals. All things together, it was an experience I’ll cherish the rest of my life.”
—John W. English, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Georgia, is a frequent contributor to GM.