There really is no other way to describe it. All the guys were tearing up the night before and I was thinking ‘man these guys are soft’. The next morning the lights turned on and our wake-up music began. We slowly woke up and we all came to the slow realization that what we had worked so hard for the entire summer was finally here. The moment that we all were dreaming of for 66 days was finally here.
I slowly had flashbacks to our days in California, riding through our first ride into Napa and having to get up “Hot Dog Hill” and throwing up on it. Our day in Nevada where we stopped in the middle of no where on a dried up lake that looked like a scene out of the movie “Holes” to inscribe ‘JOH 2013’ on the side of the road. The salt flats in Utah that we saw coming up and over a hill and wondering what the heck they were. Getting up and over Loveland Pass in Colorado and zipping down the mountain in the freezing cold. Into Nebraska where we met some lifelong friends in Grand Island and were treated like royalty in the town (and began to see the endless corn). Having to bear through the rolling hills of Iowa and having to over come that 97 mile day with 100% humidity and 105 degree weather (and saw more corn). Into Rockford, IL where Doug Meenan was treated like a local celebrity (And saw even more corn). Playing wheelchair ice hockey in Milwaukee and meeting some amazing people like Cate and Abigail (lo and behold, more corn). The time we had in Chicago relaxing and bonding with the guys being tourists (No corn in Chicago, but some throughout Illinois). Getting a chance to explore Notre Dame and do the ‘Touchdown Jesus’ pose (some corn here and there). Riding on the bumpy Michigan roads everyday through the rain (some corn). Our massages and steaks in Ohio (A LOT more corn). Meeting Leslie in Pittsburgh and having that lifelong memory (finally the end of all the corn). Screaming my frustrations with the hills in Maryland and getting to experience the peloton. All these memories lead to the day I used to only dream about.
After recalling all these memories I quickly grabbed a spare bandana and kept it in my back pocket knowing the water works were coming. It was about a 10 mile ride that day. The first 7-8 miles was riding out of Bethesda and into Northern DC. We made our way around the outskirts of Georgetown and towards the George Washington University. At GW, we met with the Trans America, South, and Build America teams. We circled up one last time for a very emotional prayer and took off.
As we approached the Capitol, it was obvious that there was a huge crowd gathered to welcome us in. You could hear the yelling and screaming of our friends and family as we rode in. It was difficult not to get choked up. I remember holding myself together but the second I looked over to my teammate and saw him crying like a baby, I just couldn’t hold it in. Immediately after, I saw my crazy mother who wouldn’t let go of me as we started walking up towards the lawn. I saw my big bro, Gabe Villanueva, and my beautiful girlfriend and just let it all out.
Chad Coltrane, CEO of Push America, welcomed our friends and family and kicked off the welcome ceremony. Nick Brady, our Project Manager, gave a really touching speech about what exactly we overcame since San Francisco. Nick wrote our final Journal Entry for the team so I thought it would only be appropriate to quote some of his post-
“Before I knew it, my time to speak on behalf of the North Route. I wanted my speech to convey the sense of pride and joy I have for the team, how excited I was for their achievement, how much love I saw within the team. It was important that the audience know how they continually sought to get better, day after day. I wanted people to know they rode every possible mile and were always willing to humble themselves for one another. I spoke about a day of struggles, a day that the team was not expecting to be difficult, but was arguably the hardest of the summer. My message was simple. Just like any challenge thrown at this group, they triumphed and continued to push themselves to get better. This was the theme of this route, at no point in time was there a sense of complacency and it was important that the audience know that. ”
As you can probably tell, it was an extremely emotional time. After our arrival we made our way back to the hotel and packed up our bikes. Once we got everything settled and showered, my friends that made it out for arrival met us at Old Ebbitt Grill. We had a great lunch full of Steak, Oysters, and plenty of ‘refreshments’.
Later on that evening we had our 2013 Banquet. The North route named Michael Walton (Texas Christian University) the recipient of the 2013 Bruce Rogers Award, given to the member who best exemplifies the ideals of Push America. Michael was a stud all summer and one of the guys I grew closest to.
After the photo slideshow of our summer, the North Route was invited to stage by Mr. Coltrane to close out the evening with one last choreographed dance to Cascada “Everytime We Touch”.
Every day we pushed past every physical, mental, and emotional limit in our bodies and become better men from it. We consistently pushed ourselves to be better and would strive to be better men than we were yesterday. The men who left San Francisco were not the same men who arrived on the Capitol Lawn on August 10th. I made 34 of the best friends I’ve ever had. I probably told my life story over 5 dozen times but now these guys know me better than some friends back home. We experienced some extremely tough days where we just wanted to quit and we experienced days where we couldn’t stop thanking god for leading us to that place at that exact moment with this group of guys. We pushed ourselves to ride every single mile we possibly could and our Project Manager did a phenomenal job to make that happen. Whether he altered a route to allow us more time to finish or whether it was allowing us to skim by rack point with the expectation that we kill the end of that ride, we all expected ourselves to make it everyday.
At the end of the banquet, we took our last pictures and began with the goodbye hugs. It seemed like the most anticipated day of our lives had just began, but now it was over. It has been the best 2 months of my life. I cannot thank those who helped me get here enough! This trip would not be possible if it were not for the 250 people who came together and donated to me towards such an amazing cause. I’ve said this in many thank you cards- Your dollars stretch miles and miles to make a difference in the lives of those living with disabilities. The dollars donated will leave a tremendous impact in the growth and development of these people we met with over this summer and I cannot thank you enough.
Here’s some photo’s!
Thank you so much for keeping up with my Journey! Stay tuned for whats next! Can anyone say Gear Up Florida 2014!? 😉
Sanjeev D. Udhnani