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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy photo Andrew Gritzmaker pauses at the Hoosier Pass in the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado. Gritzmaker took 32 days to complete a 4,164-mile cross-country bike race.

Friday, August 24, 2018 1:00 am

Bike trip helps reinforce the need to be needed

Andrew Gritzmaker

Community support

Thanks to the generosity of community members and corporations such as Brigadoon Fitness, Sweetwater, Mike Thomas and Associates, Shawnee Construction, Optimum Performance Sports, BND Commercial Real Estate, Mad Ants Fort Wayne and Charis et Veritas, LLC, nearly $30,000 was raised for Mad Anthonys Children's Hope House. Gritzmaker personally funded all aspects of his ride and used vacation time during his absence. To get involved, visit childrenshopefw.org

On July 4, I finished bicycling 4,164 miles in 32 days from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. I averaged 130 miles a day and climbed more than 160,000 feet cumulatively.

The race was unsupported, meaning I was responsible for sourcing my own food, water and accommodations as I moved eastward toward the Appalachian Mountains.

There were no safety or support vehicles to follow me. Everything I needed that month fit neatly on my bike, weighing just 38 pounds, bike and gear combined.

When you consider those numbers, it may be easy to contemplate the physical toll I paid. Certainly my body ached and even as I write this, nearly six weeks after finishing, I have lingering numbness in my hands and feet.

However, by far the hardest aspects were the mental ones. Psychologically, I simply wasn't prepared for the solitude I experienced.

I spent 23 of the 32 days on the road completely alone.

Exhausted and scared, I thought of dropping out of the race daily. I was sure I had taken on too much. I was certain I didn't have what it would take to get to Yorktown. I was also sure that my endeavor was a necessary one.

I embarked on this journey to help highlight the mission of the Mad Anthonys Children's Hope House and the realities our families face during pediatric and neonatal medical emergencies. Our families spend weeks, and even months, away from the comforts of home and the support of friends and family during their child's inpatient stay. We provide them with overnight accommodations, access to nutritious meals, laundry facilities, caring staff and many other comfort-providing amenities.

Most of all, we keep parents close to their child when their child needs them most.

I often felt that our mission had less to do with emotional well-being and more to do with providing material and physical comfort to our families. We are not counselors. We are common people trying to comfort families the only way we can.

Sebastian Junger wrote, “Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It's time for that to end.”

This excerpt from Junger's book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” explains why parents need to be at their child's bedside during injury and illness. Parents are an absolutely necessary part of the healing process. Yes, doctors and nurses have specialized knowledge and access to the life-saving technology their child needs. But parents are a potent part of the healing process; they are a force so great that they cannot be usurped by modern medicine.

My ride showed me that feeling necessary is important to good mental health. Services such as ours allow parents to experience just how necessary their nurturing is to their child. Yes, we provide the material and physical comforts at the Children's Hope House that help ease the burden of a medical emergency.

However, I would argue that the most potent benefit we provide is the peace of mind parents receive when they realize just how necessary they truly are. I believe those realizations make facing the hardships of each day, so far from home, just a bit more bearable. Whether cycling across the country or kneeling by a hospital bed, understanding our purpose makes the struggle bearable.

Andrew Gritzmaker is executive director of Mad Anthonys Children's Hope House.