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SMC student bikes across country for charity

Caitlin Housley | Friday, September 30, 2011

For one Saint Mary’s student, biking is much more than a sport.

Senior Olivia Kilian uses her bike to help eliminate poverty housing through the Fuller Center for Housing.

This summer, Kilian joined Notre Dame graduate Ryan Iafigliola and other bikers for a 3,600-mile trip across the country. The group rode from Seattle, Wash., to Washington, D.C.

Kilian said the group easily attracted spectators’ attentions. A newlywed couple rode a tandem bike, and a bike mechanic traveled on a bike that rode six feet off the ground.

“We looked like a circus coming into town, but it was actually cool because more people were interested in what we were doing, and we got to tell them about the organization,” Kilian said.

The trip began June 10 and ended Aug. 14. As she rode across the country, Kilian stopped at seven different locations across the country to perform housing renovations for community members.

“We did a lot of renovating,” Kilian said. “We would be split up into different houses working on odd jobs ⎯ everything from redoing the floors and the roof, painting, and doing siding … anything that needed revamping.”

Each rider attempts to raise one dollar per mile throughout the trip, Kilian said. The money benefits the Fuller Center for Housing.

After his graduation from Notre Dame in 2007, Iafigliola worked as the special assistant to Millard Fuller, the Fuller Center’s founder and president.

“The Fuller Center tries to take the teachings of Jesus seriously by incarnating them into our lives,” Iafigliola said. “Our specific mission is to provide opportunities for people around the country and the world to improve their own shelter and lives. We offer helping hands, not hand-outs.”

While working for Fuller, Iafigliola proposed the idea for the ride.

“At the time [I began working with the Fuller Center], it was only two years old and growing quickly, but it still faced enormous challenges ¬⎯ to spread the word about our work, to raise money and to form new local volunteer organizations to be our hands and feet,” Iafigliola said. “I proposed the Fuller Center Bike Adventure to Millard as an annual even to help meet those needs, and he jumped at it.”

The event kicked off in 2008 in San Diego, and riders have been raising funds ever since. Along the way, bikers also spread the word about the Fuller Center.

“The ride’s mission is friends-raising and fund-raising,” Iafigliola said. “Everywhere we go, we speak to church groups, civic clubs, reporters from TV, newspapers or radio and anyone that will listen.

“We tell them about how we are a faith and volunteer-driven ministry changing lives around the world, and we’re looking for people to join us.”

While she said the ride was fun, Killian said the trip requires both mental and physical strength through early 4 a.m. wake-up calls, temperature fluctuations and days with more than 50 miles of biking.

“When it’s dark outside [at 4 a.m.], your body can’t move because you’re so sore, and you’re trying to wake up putting on your spandex,” Killian said. ‘How am I supposed to ride 90 miles today?'”

However, Killian said the event’s mission motivated her to keep going every morning.

“It wasn’t about me,” Killian said. “It wasn’t even about the biking after a while. The biking was amazing, but at the end of it, I think you realize the whole trip wasn’t about the bike, it was about the organization and meeting people along the way.”

Iafigliola agreed the group’s cause is the driving force for the riders.

“We’re on a mission to end poverty housing in the whole world, but we can’t do that until everyone gets involved and it becomes a matter of conscience for each of us.”