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Crawfords reflect on Desert to Dome journey

Sam Stryker | Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Gregory Crawford, dean of the College of Science, and his wife Renate left Tucson, Ariz., with their final destination 29 days and 2,200 miles away, they knew there would be some long days ahead.

“We biked between six and 11 hours a day,” he said. “A shorter day would be 80 miles and the longest day was 120 miles. There was one 60-mile day, but that was in the mountains of New Mexico.”

Desert to Dome, the couple’s journey from Arizona to Notre Dame, raised awareness and funding to find a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C, a neurodegenerative disease.

Renate Crawford said efficiency was crucial in planning the trip. It factored into what time they began their journey each day and how they ate meals, which were provided by a support van that rode with them.

“We left really early in the morning. During the hours [on the road] we were handed food,” she said. “We were trying to minimize down time.”

Gregory Crawford said the amount of physical exertion they completed each day left them both extremely tired and hungry once they finished the day’s trip.

“We ate twice as many calories as we normally do. At the end of the day, we had to update our blog and Skype with our kids,” he said. “When you ride for that long, you kind of lie down and crash.”

Desert to Dome was not only a personal accomplishment for the Crawfords, it also marked the beginning of a partnership between Notre Dame and the Parseghian Foundation, named for former Irish football coach Ara Parseghian, who lost three grandchildren to the disease.

Gregory Crawford said all these factors made for a highly symbolic trip, for him, his wife and the organizations involved.

“It was one of those things that was once in a lifetime on a personal level. But thinking big picture, Notre Dame and the Parseghian Foundation are entering a new partnership, so this bike ride is symbolic because the Foundation is in Tucson,” he said. “Also, we can raise awareness and find the cure for Niemann-Pick Type C through scientists at Notre Dame and worldwide.”

Renate Crawford said Notre Dame helped fund the trip, as the couple stayed at roadside hotels along the way.

She said the desert climate and terrain often contributed to negative emotions along the journey, but the inspiring nature of the trip won out.

“Sometimes there were days of frustration because it was so long and hot. But we reminded ourselves that this was nothing compared to what the Parseghians went through,” Crawford said.

Gregory Crawford also said the experiences of the Parseghians helped factor in driving the duo to push themselves every day.

“There were emotions because we were riding for the Parseghian Foundation,” he said. “There was a sign of the Parseghian kids on the side of the van that was kind of like our own version of the ‘Play Like a Champion Today’ sign.”

He said the couple engaged in a specialized training program for the trip, which included running up and down the steps of Notre Dame Stadium to build leg strength needed for the New Mexican mountains.

“We cross-trained a lot. We probably put in 1,000 to 1,200 miles biking on the road before,” Gregory Crawford said. “We did a lot of spinning, weightlifting and running. Biking in the wind in Indiana from March to July really helped us.”

He said the natural wonders around them were awe-inspiring and one of the highlights of their ride.

“The mountains in New Mexico were spectacular. They had just had rain before we arrived, so the desert was blossoming,” he said.

The couple said in addition to the breathtaking scenery during the trip, interacting with Notre Dame Clubs along the way was one of the greatest rewards of their Desert to Dome experience.

“Tulsa was pretty unbelievable. A few of their Notre Dame Club members rode with us that day,” Gregory Crawford said.

After their nearly month-long journey, Renate Crawford said the arrival back to the Notre Dame campus was an unforgettable welcome home that no other university could have provided.

“We saw the Dome, we saw the people and excitement and then we heard the fight song and it was overwhelming,” she said.