In early March, fifth-year M.D./ M.P.H. student Jeff Jenks borrowed a bicycle from his uncle. Jenks hadn’t done much cycling before, so it took a while to get familiar with the bike and grow comfortable using its clipless pedals.
Three weeks later, he felt confident enough to saddle up for a cross-country journey of 3,700 miles.
As a member of the 2009 Ride for World Health team, Jenks joined 24 other riders (22 of them fellow fourth-year medical students at various schools) for a two-month bicycle trip from San Diego to Washington, D.C. Along the way, the riders rolled through 11 states, participated in more than 50 education events, and raised $80,000 to support organizations dedicated to world health.
An avid runner, Jenks felt physically prepared for the trip despite being new to long-distance cycling, and his passion for global health issues made the opportunity to participate in such a unique fund-raising and public education project impossible to turn down.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
The 2009 trip was the fourth annual Ride for World Health, a tradition begun by medical students at the Ohio State University, where the non-profit organization is still headquartered. In addition to many OSU medical students, the 2009 team included riders from elsewhere in Ohio, as well as New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, and as far away as Arizona and British Columbia. Jenks was the first Wright State student to participate.
Jenks and his fellow travelers covered an average of 80 miles per day, and some days they logged more than 100. They rode through mountains and deserts, and they sometimes had to pedal into 30-mile-per-hour headwinds, heavy snow, or driving rain.
Surprisingly, Jenks said, “The wind was worse than the snow and rain. It can blow you off your bike.”
For most of the trip, though, the weather was fine, the terrain was varied and picturesque, and the experience was unforgettable. Jenks was especially fond of the uphill rides, as when the group ascended the mountains surrounding Los Angeles or crossed the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet) in Colorado.
Perhaps the best aspect of the trip, Jenks said, was the opportunity to raise awareness of world health issues such as infectious disease, mental illness, and the impact of poverty.
“Almost every day along the way,” he said, “we’d have a group that would go to organizations to talk about global health issues. We’d go to grade schools, high schools, medical schools, Rotary clubs, hospitals—pretty much anyone they’d let us come talk with.”
Jenks participated in many of the presentations to medical students, which he found gratifying.
“In medical school,” he said, “especially the first couple of years, you’re not often directly exposed to some of the global health issues that affect a lot of people in other parts of the world—and in some parts of this country too. Even in this country, access to clean water, adequate sanitation, and adequate and timely medical care is definitely not a given.”
Jenks hopes to be active in global health following his graduation in 2010, when he plans to pursue a specialty in internal medicine and a subspecialty in infectious disease.
While the Ride for World Health hasn’t made him a passionate cyclist, he wouldn’t trade the trip for anything.
“This was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. VS