Family and friends, including the Commodore mascot, welcomed Tom Reardon (center) and Austin Bauman as they completed their 5,000-mile, summer-long bicycle trek across the Eastern United States with a celebration Sept. 5 at Rand Hall.
by Caroline Sarros Colley
While most of their Vanderbilt classmates set out to start careers or pursue graduate studies, Austin Bauman and Tom Reardon chose a different path, one that was 5,000 miles long.
Following their graduation in May 2006, Bauman and Reardon embarked on Rally Across America, a 5,000-mile bike ride to raise money for the Rally Foundation, an organization that supports childhood cancer research.
Cancer is a leading cause of disease-related death in children under 15. Yet, many cancer research dollars go toward adult cancers, leaving childhood cancer research without sufficient funding.
The Rally Foundation focuses on grassroots efforts, such as Rally Across America, to raise money for this crucial research.
“When he (Bauman) first told me about Rally Across America, I knew this ride was something I had to do,” Reardon wrote in his online journal, which the two cyclists updated regularly from the road throughout their journey.
Bauman and Reardon asked individuals to sponsor them a penny per mile with the hope of getting 5,000 sponsors by the end of their journey. “Pedaling for Pennies” became the Rally Across America slogan.
Working with the Rally Foundation and their family and friends, Bauman and Reardon identified 29 children across the Eastern United States to be “Rally Kids.” In June the two started in Atlanta, riding east toward the Atlantic, turning north when they saw the blue of the ocean. Bauman and Reardon rode up the Atlantic coast from Savannah, Ga., to Scarborough, Me. When they reached Maine, they rode west until they crossed the Mississippi River. In each city, they visited children affected by cancer, often staying with the children’s friends and families. Each stop brought a visit to the local pediatric oncology hospital or department.
“It (was) great to take their minds off their sickness, because the kids in the hospitals just want to be treated like kids,” Bauman said.
Bauman and Reardon didn’t make the journey alone. Friends driving a chase car loaded with supplies, as well as an amateur film company, Veritaz Productions, accompanied them. Veritaz spent the summer filming the trip and will produce a documentary from the footage. Bauman and Reardon kept up with their supporters in various cities through a Web site that included photos of their ups and downs, heartfelt journal entries and a running tally of dollars raised.
The two cyclists arrived back in Nashville on Sept. 5 to a welcoming crowd at Vanderbilt. After three months and 5,000 miles of “pedaling for pennies” across the country, the cyclists returned with more than $116,000. A few supporters literally took them up on the request for pennies. “We’ve got an army duffel bag in the backseat of the chase car that’s got to weigh 300 pounds by now,” Bauman said. “But the whole idea is that everyone can give something, and we’ve really experienced that.”
The two encountered adventure and mishaps on the road. Flat tires were a daily occurrence, and Reardon took a spill off his bike that resulted in a bruise so large it earned its own one-minute film by the documentary production company. Bauman and Reardon cycled through mountain ranges, across rivers, and once rode 200 miles in a single day. They cycled through 19 states and visited more than 300 children.
In one of his final journal entries, Bauman wrote, “I can’t believe that we are almost done. We’ve grown so used to … sleeping on couches … begging guys at bicycle shops for discounts, asking people for donations. ... Man, I’m gonna miss this job.”
For more information on Rally Across America, visit www.rallyacrossamerica.org.