The Ability Experience
Here at Giordana, we believe in enhancing the lives of our global community through cycling-centric initiatives. That's why we sat down with Chael Williams, and twin brothers, Josh and Will Ingram, from The Ability Experience (ABEX). ABEX has been a partner of ours for over 20 years now and we want to shine a spotlight on the amazing work they're doing to further the ABEX mission. This is something we can all be proud of.
Words by Chael Williams, Josh and Will Ingram. Images by The Ability Experience.
Tell me about The Ability Experience and how you serve the community?
(Will): The Ability Experience is a non-profit organization that provides shared experiences for people with disabilities and members of Pi Kappa Phi. This organization was a key reason that I joined Pi Kappa Phi because I have Cerebral Palsy and wanted to get more involved in making a change. We serve the community in multiple different ways in our local communities and nationwide. Locally, my chapter in New Orleans volunteers with Miracle League, playing sports with children with disabilities and hold fundraisers on our campus. Nationally we have events that help build things such as accessible ramps and playgrounds for people with disabilities.
What is the Journey of Hope and what made you want to sign up?
(Chael): Journey of Hope is a cross country cycling trip that begins on the west coast & ends in Washington D.C. We cycle across the country, stopping to serve people with disabilities along the way. I wanted to sign up for two major reasons. First, working with people with disabilities is one of my passions. I grew up in a home with two parents with major disabilities, so serving that community has always been important to me. Secondly, a few older guys in our chapter had done it before and it seemed like the coolest thing ever. I've always loved mountain biking & thought the transition to road cycling would be easy.
(Josh): I signed up because of the opportunities I knew it would give me and how it could change me to be a better, more empathetic, and understanding person.
(Will): I wanted to sign up to have these shared experiences with people, work with the organization on a national level, and because, having cerebral palsy myself, I wanted to show that no one should have limits set on their life because of the abilities they do or do not have.
How did you prepare for a ride like this?
(Josh): I started cycling in September 2017 and in fall 2018 started to take training seriously. This trip requires more mental preparedness than physical, as it is almost impossible to get your body ready to cycle for 80-100 miles every day.
(Chael): Well, I logged as many miles as I could on the bike before the trip. I even entered a century race a month before JOH. I also did a lot of weight training & running/swimming.
(Will): This trip is a huge undertaking for anyone, and training is a key aspect in order to complete it. Training in New Orleans did not really give me any climbing to try and be prepared for, but it did allow me to learn how to ride in a city. Also, because of it raining a lot in the city, I had to train a lot on a stationary trainer. So just getting the miles in and making the miles as hard as I could on a stationary trainer was worked best for me.
Where did you ride across the country and how many total miles?
(Chael): I did the South Route. We began in Santa Barbara, down into Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, & Virginia into DC. Around 4,000 miles.
(Will): I was on the North Route and rode from San Francisco, California, to Washington D.C. The trip was a total of 3720 miles.
(Josh): I rode on the TransAmerica Route. We started in Seattle, rode through the Pacific Northwest, into the Midwest, and to the East Coast for a total of 4350 miles.
What was the most epic ride from your trip?
(Josh): The best ride of the trip was through Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive. We had a lot of climbing on the front end, but the views and beauty of the park were well worth it.
(Chael): My favorite day was our second day from Thousand Oaks, CA to Long Beach, CA. We road down mountains into Malibu & then through Venice Beach and downtown LA. It was crazy.
(Will): My most epic ride happened early on in the trip. We had a day where we were tasked to climb into South Lake Tahoe from Jackson, CA. It was a day we rode about 90 miles and climbed over 9000 feet. Well, when we started, my gear shifting completely quit on me and I was stuck in one gear for the entire ride.
I thought that there would be no way to keep up and finish that ride, but when I got into Lake Tahoe, I felt so accomplished. I knew that if I could do that ride in one gear, I could handle anything that came my way that summer. That is a day that I will never forget!
Where was the most memorable community you visited?
(Josh): Arrowhead West in Kansas will always be with me. We had to push on the bike to arrive on time and the arrival was epic.
(Chael): Zuni, New Mexico, is the community that stood out to me. We stayed on a Native American reserve and got to learn a lot about their culture as well as see a lot of the artifacts of their tribe.
We got to meet their priest who taught us a lot about the community's relationship with the church and outside world. It was so eye opening to become more aware of the different cultures we have here in America.
(Will): We had a stop in Grand Island, Nebraska, where we spent two days with the community. They really showed out and welcomed us with open arms. That community has meant so much to Journey of Hope over the years. The way they welcomed us and gave us a chance to meet the incredible people there showed me why it is such an important stop.
Across the country, you visit different organizations that serve people with disabilities. Tell me about one of these visits and what you took away from the experience?
(Josh): While in Bloomington, Indiana, I spent time with a woman named Taylor. She and I walked up and down the hallway, because she had to have her caregiver near her at all times. We just talked about our families, our hobbies, and enjoyed each other's company. I learned that service is not doing something for somebody, it is being present with somebody.
(Chael): We visited a woman named Tonya in Albuquerque who spoke to us through her wheelchair. She has dedicated her entire life to raising money to build accessible play equipment for kids with disabilities all across Albuquerque. We got to hear from families who her mission has benefited. I got to speak to a mother of a child with severe disabilities that day about the challenges of being a caregiver. As a caregiver myself, I know how difficult it can be being a caretaker. We talked and cried together—it was incredible to relate to someone on that level and support one another.
(Will): We had a visit with Special Olympics of Colorado that was a fundraiser called Pedal for Pennies in Denver. We rode around the park's lake with the athletes who were so fast! They showed us what ability was all about. This visit was one that helped develop new perspectives about what people with disabilities can do and what they can do for our team.
On Journey of Hope, you encountered all sorts of riding conditions. How did the Giordana gear make your ride more comfortable?
(Josh): The Giordana gear layered very nicely allowing the team to be as warm or cool as necessary. When it was very hot and humid the jersey breathed well and dried quickly.
(Chael): Going through the deserts, mountains, & weird weather, the kits we had were able to withstand everything we faced. The shorts/bibs were super comfortable on the seat & made it comfortable to ride for long distances every day.
(Will): The light gear helped keep us comfortable in the heat and they were quick to dry in the rain. There was a day that the temperature was between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit and if the kits were not as breathable as they were, we as a team would have had so many issues while on the road that day.
After this experience, how do you see yourself getting involved in serving people with disabilities?
(Josh): After Journey of Hope, I applied to intern with The Ability Experience for summer 2020 and I work with the Arc of Southeast Mississippi, a United Way organization serving people with disabilities in my hometown.
(Chael): I currently am very involved with the Arc of Southeast Mississippi. I work there & will continue to work there for as long as I am in Hattiesburg. When I graduate Southern Miss & leave Hattiesburg, I will find a new place to invest and serve.
(Will): I got involved with people with disabilities soon after getting back through Miracle League. We even set up a meeting with the group on campus during our annual fundraiser.
Looking back on your experience, what did you learn about yourself and serving others?
(Josh): I learned that anybody is able to do whatever they can set their mind to. It sounds cliché, but before this summer cycling across the United States sounded daunting, but today it is something that I did. I don't remember the challenge, I remember the joy of being with friends, making new friends, and looking forward to every Friendship Visit. I learned that when serving others, you gain more than you could ever hope to give.
Chael: I learned a lot on Journey of Hope. About serving others, I learned that being tired isn't an excuse to not put others first. If you have the ability to serve, always choose to put the next man first. Our Pi Kapp Phi chapter has an old motto that the most important man is the next man, meaning that the people around you should always be your #1 priority & Journey of Hope perfectly reflects that lesson. About myself, I learned a lot about my role in a group. I've been on sports teams and in leadership positions for organizations my whole life, but Journey of Hope taught me more about being on a team. I learned more about understanding my leadership strengths and weaknesses than anything else I've ever done.
I learned when it's best for me to step up & take charge. But I also learned the harder lesson of when to fade into the background & let someone else lead. Both are important in different situations.
(Will): I learned that I need to believe in my abilities and trust those around me to help if I need it. There are certain things that everyone has to ask for help with and I need to learn to accept it. What I learned about serving others is that the most important part is making a strong connection with those that you are serving. This is important so you can truly get to know those that you are serving and understand their situations and they can get to know you.
Giordana has committed a portion of our holiday sales to help support ABEX. If you would like to donate to ABEX or learn more about the organization, check out their website.