2004-01-09 / Front Page

A bicycle trip that leads to someone else’s home

Staff Writer

Cyclists’ cross-country ride
to benefit Habitat for Humanity
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff Brian Christian (l-r), Sameer Shariff and Erik Brown will take the cross-country cycling trip this summer.CHRIS KELLY staff Brian Christian (l-r), Sameer Shariff and Erik Brown will take the cross-country cycling trip this summer.

They’re three ivy leaguers with the best of times and intentions in mind. They’re Sameer Shariff, Erik Brown and Brian Christian. None of these area natives is in search of accolades for his academic accomplishments.

Rather, they would like to consider themselves three guys with bikes riding toward a mixed mission of lasting memories and charity as they ready themselves for a trek across the country this summer to benefit Habitat for Humanity, the international nonprofit which builds homes for the working poor.

The three high school pals and neighbors with both grade-point averages and sports backgrounds to boast of want to make their mark on society in yet another way. They want to give back while getting in a little fun while in their prime.

"Habitat for Humanity is a great organization," Shariff, the trio’s unofficial spokesman, said. "I can’t think of a better way to create memories of a lifetime with great friends and contribute to a good cause at the same time. We all participated in sports (track, cross country, soccer) together in one way or another as teammates or competing through the years. Something like this is part of our nature in many ways."

Shariff, 20, of Tinton Falls, is an undergraduate studying electrical engineering at Princeton University. Brown, 19, also from Tinton Falls, is a physics major at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; and Christian, a Little Silver native, attends Brown University, Providence, R.I., and majors in computer science and philosophy.

By virtue of their majors alone, one may be hesitant to think that they would forgo the status quo internships that high achievers gravitate toward during their summers away from college. However, Shariff said, "for a cause and opportunity like this, one summer without an internship or a job is OK. My parents are supportive of the fact that this is the best time of my life. Time has to be made to fit in things like this now and live life a little. The bonus, really, is that it all benefits Habitat. This bike tour is the organization’s biggest fund-raiser. We’ve all always wanted to take a cross-country road tour, and this seems like the best way to do it."

The three decided in August that they would embark on the tour this June, which will take off in New Haven and span nine weeks and 4,000 miles, ending in San Francisco. "We’re taking the southern tour," Shariff said, "which goes through the heartland — from New York to Pennsylvania to West Virginia to Kentucky to Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.

There are three groups of 30 taking different tours in what has been dubbed the Habitat Bicycle Challenge. The event, which garners donations through sponsorships, was conceived 10 years ago at Yale when a small group of students who wanted to make more of a difference for Habitat set out on a very roughly conceived seat-of-their-pants tour.

"They just got sponsors, bikes and backpacks and rode," Shariff said. "They slept on the side of the road and really roughed it, but ended up making $50,000. Now the tour has become much more organized and the courses are not as difficult to travel."

Participants ride about 70 to 80 miles a day and, in exchange for their hard pedaling, participating churches and community centers along the way provide overnight accommodations and meals. "How that works is that for every about 40 miles we travel, we get a meal," Shariff said. "For instance, we usually travel about 80 miles, so we’ll stay at a church, and they will provide lodging, dinner that night and breakfast in the morning. Other organizations along the way contribute lunch."

Another added bonus to the new and improved charity bike tours is that now a support crew travels alongside the "bikers" in a van to provide repairs and other assistance when needed.

It’s not a luxury tour of the continent, but Shariff, Brown and Christian say they want to spread their good fortune and be the good neighbors to others that they were to one another growing up.

"Erik and I grew up in the same neighborhood. We met in the fifth grade," Shariff said. "We went to magnet high schools. Brian and I went to the High Technology High School at Brookdale Community College (Middletown) and Erik went to the Allied Health and Science High School, Neptune. I became friends with Brian and introduced him to Erik, and we all played sports together. We’ve stayed in close touch, and when Erik went off to Yale, he found out about the Habitat bike tour. The rest is history. We not only like that Habitat provides homes to people in need, but that the organization operates on sweat equity — having the people getting the homes work to build them. The people benefiting will learn to be a vital part of a community as well. We have had this, in one way or another, together, so we appreciate the value."

The three need to rally sponsors for the tour as soon as possible. Each must raise at least $4,000, or $1 a mile.

Shariff made sure to mention that he did not want the fact that he did all the talking in this interview to sway people toward sponsoring one of them over the other. Check out the Web site to get sponsorships in at www.yale.edu/habitat.

"I don’t think all the information for the new tour is on the site yet," Shariff said. "If not, people can send checks in any amount they wish to pledge to Habitat for Humanity Challenge of New Haven, 378 Crown St., New Haven, CN 06511. Checks should be payable to Habitat Bicycle Challenge and include the sponsor’s name, name of the person being sponsored (in the memo section), and an address."

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