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Cyclists wheel into Columbus, talk health

Lucy Ramos / Lantern reporter

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A band of “gypsies” on bicycles has arrived in Columbus. Or at least, they say that’s what they feel like.

These gypsies make up the Ride For World Health cycling team, a group of Ohio State medical students traveling 3,700 miles across the country to spread the word about global health.

“We’re like this nomad colony, like gypsies,” said Angela Douglas, a fourth-year in medicine and member of the R4WH leadership team. “We have our bags, every night we spread everything out, every morning we have to pack everything back in.”

The riders were in Columbus from Thursday through today for the solidarity ride. Riders of all skill levels could participate in either a 25-mile or 40-mile ride.

The solidarity ride was part of the group’s longer, cross-country ride to spread a message about global health.

The riders started their cross-country journey on April 5 in San Diego. Since then, they have traveled through 10 different states, giving lectures in both small and big cities as well as major medical centers, including the OSU Medical Center Thursday. The first ride took place in 2006.

“We try to stop at a lot of big cities so then we give these lectures on global health, or depending on the audience, if we have preschoolers which we also have given talks to, we do like, bike safety and things that are more relevant to them,” Douglas said.

One of the main objectives of R4WH is to raise money for different beneficiaries. This year, the money they raise goes to MedWish International, AHOPE for Children and the Partnership for Ongoing Developmental, Educational and Medical Outreach Solutions, or PODEMOS, which OSU medical students started in 2007.

Douglas said MedWish takes a lot of medical supplies that normally would’ve been thrown away and collects them to distribute to other countries in need. AHOPE is an orphanage in Ethiopia that helps provide medication and education for children affected by HIV, and PODEMOS provides long-term medical care for people in Honduras.

The focus on global health is what motivated Alison Nelson from northern Missouri to join the R4WH team.

“My parents are both doctors, and I grew up with health, but I always knew that I wanted to focus a little more globally,” she said. “When I found out about the Ride For World Health through a random email that got forwarded to me, I decided that it was probably the only cause that could convince me to sign up to bike across the country.”

Normally, wake-up call is at about 5:30 a.m., with the riders starting out at 7 a.m. and not stopping until 3-4 p.m. Nelson said the 80-mile bike rides are difficult and grueling and really make you pay attention to what you’re doing to prepare your body for the ride.

“Little things that you don’t think are going to affect your body that much, like how much you ate at the last rest stop, or whether or not you’ve been drinking two sips of water or four at every time you stop,” she said.

Liz Mitchell, a fourth-year in medicine and director of logistics for R4WH, said the ride is physically challenging but an accomplishment.

“It’s so gratifying to know that I went from never having ridden more than 50-60 miles to now being able to complete a 100-mile ride and still feel good afterwards and to have climbed some pretty big mountains,” she said. “It’s been such an awesome experience and a really great way to see the country, and to see the country from some of the back roads and smaller cities.”

Douglas said the riders rely a lot on the cities they’re visiting to provide them with a place to stay during rest stops.

“Most of the time we stay at churches or schools, whoever will allow us to stay at their place, so a lot of gym floors, things like that,” she said.

Nelson said some of her most enjoyable times have come when the people in the cities they stay in want to talk to them and take them places and stick around for dinner instead of just setting them up and dropping them off.

“A lot of the smaller towns seem to be way more willing to hang out with us and find out what’s going on,” she said.

Mitchell said her love of cycling and her belief in the cause were what inspired her to ride across the country.

“I think that the global health aspect of it, the ability to talk to people from all different walks of life and let them know about what’s going on in the world, I thought it would be a really good exercise in sort of working with a whole different group of people,” she said.

Today the R4WH team will continue traveling east to Athens, then eventually to Washington D.C., finally ending its journey at Bethany Beach, Del., Sunday.

Mitchell said she’ll be glad for the stability that will come when the trip ends, but she’ll miss riding and seeing the country.

“It’s a true coast-to-coast ride, so before we left San Diego, we dipped our rear tires in the Pacific Ocean,” Mitchell said, “and then we’ll dip our front tires in the Atlantic Ocean when we get there.”  

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