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Epic Bike Adventure Planned to Aid Ukrainian Orphans

May 4th, 2011

By Taylor Eckel. Originally published in the PHC Herald, 4/15/11. Picture by Art Cox.

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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Patrick Henry College junior Russell York prepares for a cross-country bike trip to aid Ukrainian orphans.

This summer, junior Russell York plans to forego the typical job setting and office chair of an internship for a bicycle seat as he pedals 3,200 miles across the country. For 40 days, York will rise at dawn, pack up camp, and down a few Power Bars before he tackles the day’s challenges. Stopping only for meals and a brief midday rest, York will bike 80 to 100 miles between dawn and dusk.

York’s epic bike ride is an effort to raise money for orphans in the Ukraine. Each year, over 1,000 Ukrainian infants are abandoned in hospitals. Thirty thousand children live in overcrowded, underdeveloped orphanages, and 60 to 70 percent of male teenaged orphans eke out a living by engaging in crime. The same percentage of girls turn to prostitution.

York said that the lifestyle of these orphans is self-perpetuating because many will abandon their children. In addition to the direct consequences of crime and prostitution, York said that one in six orphans will commit suicide before the age of 30.

York became aware of the orphan crisis in the Ukraine this past February when his friend Ryan Gantzer told him that the ministry Young Life was looking for someone to raise awareness and fundraise for their efforts to fight the orphan crisis in Ukraine. Gantzer, the leader of a Young Life team that will be travelling to the Ukraine this summer, asked York to consider taking on that role.

He wrestled with his decision, because it would require him to forgo internship opportunities, but he realized that his struggle was less about the internship and more about seeking the Lord. York said that Psalm 137:8 helped to shape his perspective and ultimately, his decision: “It says, ‘The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.’ I am confident that no matter what I do, God is using me for His kingdom. This bike trip is in part my way of acting on that confidence.”

Since making his decision, York has been preparing for his tour, completing extensive research, acquiring gear, and training. Due to limited space, York said that he plans to eat at restaurants and replenish his snacks along the way instead of packing large amounts of food.

 “A couple of guys have told me that you need to consume 5000 calories a day, [so] the food could be the most complicated part of the trip,” York said.

York will travel solo, riding a road bike that is designed for both durability and comfort. Although he has not yet purchased it, York said that he has picked out a bike at a local bike shop.

All of his gear must fit into the panniers (similar to saddlebags) on his bike. This includes his tent, spare bike parts and tools, food, and water. Because his route will take him through the heat of the desert and the heights of the Rocky Mountains, York said he will need a full range of clothing. He will also carry his computer and a small video camera to document his trip. These will help him regularly update his website, 3000milesforukraine.com.

To train, York has mostly been running, although he and fellow junior Ryan Gilles completed a 90-mile training ride to and from Washington, D.C. at the end of March. Although York said that he wasn’t particularly sore after the long ride, experienced cyclists have warned him that the first two weeks of his cross-country trip will be painful.

He plans to leave Virginia on May 16, intending to finish the 3,200 mile trip in San Diego.

After the bike trip, York will continue his efforts to aid Ukrainian orphans. He will travel to the Ukraine later in the summer with a Young Life team and help them expand a business that raises money for faith-based orphanages. Ukrainian government regulations prevent foreign funding of orphanages, so Young Life has established a successful tee-shirt printing business in the Ukraine in an effort to directly support Christian orphanages.

“The Ukrainian government wants to protect their orphans,” said Gantzer, who is leading the summer Young Life trip. He explained that the Ukrainian government fears that foreign organizations will negatively influence orphans so they are hesitant to allow foreign funding.

Gantzer said that the business they will assist in the Ukraine is run by Young Life and all of its profits go directly to Young Life.

“Russell will be working directly with the [business] leaders to make sales and establish consistent customers,” said Gantzer.

Because York’s bike trip has been underwritten by Young Life, all donations go directly to the ministry. Visit his website for more information about how to pray for his work or support him financially.