KNOXVILLE — Haiti relief efforts are happening across the United States. However, two courageous high school seniors are crossing the U.S. for Haiti relief.
Memphis University School seniors Cort Gatliff and Christian Kauffman are bike riding from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for clean water in Haiti. Their project is called The Water Cycle.
Gatliff, who will be a freshman at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the fall, already was a dedicated cyclist before this project began.
“Biking is something that I have always loved,” Gatliff said. “My dad got me into mountain biking when I was a little kid and, over the past few years, I became an avid road biker. I had heard about people doing coast-to-coast bike rides before, and since I love adventures and challenges, it seemed like something that I’d enjoy doing. It became a realistic goal once I realized that I could combine my love for cycling and helping others into one project.”
Gatliff and Kaufmann are biking across America to raise money for Living Water International, an organization that will use the funds raised to build clean water wells in Haiti. The monthlong bike ride began March 4 and will conclude on April 4. The pair are traveling along Route 66; they started in Santa Monica, Calif., and will end in Savannah, Ga.
“Along with raising money, we are just trying to create awareness about the water
crisis,” Gatliff said. “It is something that kills millions of people a year — one child dies every 15 seconds because they don’t have access to clean water — but we hardly ever hear about it.”
Currently, their goal is $50,000 and they have raised more than $32,000. With the 30-day time constraint, Gatliff and Kauffman are forced to push themselves to ride between five and seven hours a day.
“The ride itself is pretty tough,” Gatliff said. “Since we only have 30 days to complete this journey, we don’t really have any rest days. We have to ride no matter what the weather and no matter how we are feeling. It’s a ton of fun though. Not many people get to see our beautiful country coast-to-coast at 15 mph. It’s a great experience.”
Many important sponsors have been instrumental in helping the boys make the trip a reality. Hammer Nutrition gave them nutritional supplements. The Peddler Bike Shop in Memphis tuned their bikes before the trip and gave them discounts on gear. Also, SportLegs, an organization that makes a supplement that helps keep your legs fresh, gave Gatliff and Kauffman enough of their product to last the entire trip.
Along the way, various hotels have offered free lodging to the cyclists.
“It actually does happen a lot — almost every night,” Gatliff said. “We’ll call a hotel and tell them what we’re doing and how any discounts or free rooms will help give water to the people of Haiti, and for the most part, all the hotels we have stayed with have been incredibly helpful. It’s amazing how eager people are to help out. It’s been a huge blessing.”
Gatliff and Kauffman had to coordinate with their high school to get approval to do this project. The boys brought a proposal to their headmaster, and he was immediately on board. Their teachers worked with them ahead of time to formulate a plan so the boys wouldn’t fall behind.
“Memphis University School does a great job of instilling a sense of leadership and service in all of its students, so the school was very excited and ready to help us in any way they could,” Gatliff said.
“We usually do our homework in the hotel at night,” he said. “We don’t have a ton to do, but we still have to do it. It’s usually pretty tough to find the motivation after riding 100 miles, but we know that our school has been incredibly generous in letting us miss school for our project, so we don’t mind doing it.”
Their parents are very supportive of the ride as well. They take turns driving the “support car” that follows the boys.
“We are also incredibly blessed to have parents who would let us attempt this journey to begin with,” Gatliff said. “Our friends think this whole project is kind of crazy, but pretty cool. Everyone in Memphis, including Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr., have been really encouraging. When the riding gets tough, it makes it a little easier to know that you have an entire city supporting what you’re doing.”
Kauffman plans to attend the University of Alabama to study business management, and Gatliff plans to study journalism at UT.
“I had heard a lot of good things about UT and knew a lot of people there, but I had never visited,” Gatliff said. “When I came to visit, everyone was incredibly nice and I loved the campus. I decided that it would be a great fit for me. It just seems like there are so many opportunities for me at UT, so I am very excited.”
Kauffman and Gatliff have created a Web site, Facebook page and Twitter feed to update the world on their progress. The boys will ride through Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday, March 25, with Mayor Wharton.
For more information about The Water Cycle or to get daily updates about the ride, visit their Web site.
C O N T A C T :
Bridget Hardy (865-974-2225, firstname.lastname@example.org)