University of Miami alumnus Kyle Kryak raised awareness for Tourette syndrome (TS), which he was diagnosed with as a child, by completing a 2,695-mile solo bicycle ride across the southern United States.
Kryak, who graduated in December 2014 as a geography major, took off on the bike ride on Jan. 2, 2015 and raised about $3,500 for the cause.
He followed a southern route that went along the Gulf Coast and passed through Pensacola, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; and Gulf Port, Mississippi. He then traveled through Austin, continuing west to El Paso, Texas and through to California, where he traveled north of Los Angeles to get to Ventura.
“For the goal of raising awareness and creating a dialogue about Tourette’s, I think this trip definitely served its purpose,” Kryak said. “I think people seeing this extraordinary act … they wonder what motivates this person to do that; what’s the drive? It really comes from within, but also I think it really comes from a place of wanting to put others on your shoulders.”
Along the way, he stayed in motels and hotels, often changing his route to find more populated areas to spend the night. He also found shelter in the homes of other cyclists through The Warm Showers Community, a network of cyclists across the globe that exchange free hospitality, with whom he shared his experience with Tourette’s.
On this trip, Kryak traveled an average of 67 miles per day for a total of 46 days. To achieve this, he completed six to seven hours of biking per day. Even while eating “monstrous amounts” of food, Kryak estimates that he burned about 157,000 calories throughout the trip and lost 15 pounds.
Kryak was diagnosed with TS around the age of six. His sister received the same diagnosis at an even younger age, making spreading awareness about TS personally important for him.
“It affects my family, and I think it needed more attention,” Kryak said.
He decided to bike across the country during his freshman year at UM. To support his idea, he worked jobs at the front desk of the Student Activities Center and in Eaton Residential College to save up the money for food, lodging and other expenses for his trip, allowing the trip to be self-supported.
For two years, he worked on improving his fitness and strength. He worked up to bicycle training for his last two years at the university, keeping his training gear in his dorm room in Eaton.
Junior Rachel Lopez was a friend, co-worker and classmate of Kryak’s during his time at UM. She said she witnessed his personal dedication to bicycling.
“Often, I would find him in his free time deciphering maps or leaving Eaton with his bike ready to challenge himself to ride farther and longer each weekend,” Lopez said. “I am so impressed by his determination to merge what he loves by bicycling across the southern United States.”
Kryak said that one of the defining moments of his trip occurred during his first day in California. He arrived at the border around 6:45 a.m. with 110 miles of desert riding to complete that day. But 17 miles in, a spoke on his rear wheel broke, making the bike unridable, and no cars were passing by on the desert road.
Finally, a California highway patrol pulled up beside him and offered to drive Kryak one hour away to a bike shop in Arizona. When the two arrived at the shop, the owner fixed the bike free of charge because of Kryak’s cause.
“It was, like, a $50 service,” Kryak said. “But he gave it me pro bono because of my cause, because of my trip. So I’m speechless. It was an incredible act of kindness by a complete stranger.”
Kryak then went to purchase a smoothie at a shop next door, where the man behind the counter gave the smoothie to Kryak free of charge because his niece has TS.
“He said to me, ‘I really appreciate what you’re doing, raising awareness,’” Kryak said. “It’s incredible how small this world is and what unites people, brings out the good in people. I think that day truly exemplified that.”
Kryak completed his ride on Feb. 16. Following this, he began spreading awareness about TS through speaking engagements at schools, organized by the Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA).
Annetta Hewko, president of TSA, said that the experiences Kryak shares are beneficial to her organization’s cause.
“His incredible journey is just beginning as he continues to inspire others, especially children, with his message of overcoming the challenges he faced growing up with the disorder,” Hewko said.
In middle school and high school, Kryak faced bullying because of TS. As a result, Kryak taught himself to hold back his ticks and continues to do so today through muscle memory.
“I would learn to suppress it until I was home where I was comfortable to openly tick,” he said. “Even though I trust people and realize that people aren’t going to judge me because of my TS, it’s still firmly planted in my head to suppress it regardless, indiscriminately.”
To help other kids who may experience this kind of pressure, he tries to incorporate students with TS into his speeches at schools.
“If there’s a student who has Tourette’s, I will try to bring him up and show his classmates that it doesn’t make him weird,” he said. “It doesn’t make a person different if you have Tourette’s. And just like me, it doesn’t matter. No one cares that I have Tourette’s — they care what I did.”
Kryak hopes to continue his public speaking, but said this will be his last bike ride of the kind.
“A lot of people have asked me if I plan on doing this again, but I said it’s only a one-time deal because it’s always been my dream,” he said. “Now I can come up with a different dream. You know the whole ‘follow your dreams’ kind of thing that people just repeat, repeat, repeat — but it’s true! Follow your dreams and chase after it. Or at least bike after it.”
Featured image courtesy echiner1 via Flickr