Twenty-one-year-old Scott Athen of Columbia says he's not in the best of shape, but he's counting on his legs to peddle 3,700 miles across the nation this summer to help those in worse condition.

Beginning June 15, he and 49 members of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity will participate in the fraternity's fifth annual "Journey of Hope" bike trekacross the country to raise a minimum of $4,000 each for the disabled.

The bikers, known as the PUSH America team, will begin the trip in San Francisco and arrive Aug. 15 on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, Athen said.

The fraternity founded PUSH, or People Understanding the Severely Handicapped, 15 years ago to improve the lives of the disabled, he said. Since its birth, PUSH has raised at least $1.75 million.

"We hope that people will understand that people who are differently-abled -- that's all they are -- can do things we can do, except they've got barriers," Athen said.

Athen is a graduating senior majoring in business administration with a marketing emphasis at Elon College in North Carolina. He plans to attend a Maryland law school after graduation.

For the coast-to-coast trip, Athen plans to raise $6,000, "just because I think I can do it and it's more money for PUSH." So far, he has raised $2,200. Each member must raise $4,000 by the end of May to qualify for the trip.

Thirty-five percent to 40 percent of the expected $200,000 raised will be used for food and other essentials for the bikers, Athen said.

Bikers also plan to stop in various cities along the way to visit the disabled and discuss issues facing the disabled. The bikers will use the Kids On The Block puppets to help teach the nation's children what's it like tobe disabled, Athen said.

Each day, at their own pace, participants will travel 40 to 100 miles, he said. Eight crew members will follow the two teams of 25 bikers to supply them with food and medical assistance if needed.

To prepare for the trip, Athen has begun riding200 miles a week. He will use his own 14-speed bike during the cross-country journey, which he hopes will burn off an extra 10 pounds.

One of his fears during the ride "is that I'll get hurt and can't ride."

Athen said, "I'd feel let down if I didn't raise the money and couldn't go, that would be even worse."

Overall, the trip will give him an opportunity to learn what he can do mentally and physically.

"It'll definitely be something I'll remember the rest of my life," he said.

To sponsor Athen, call (919) 584-7950.

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