George Mason University

News at Mason

A cross-country excursion to help an across-the-nation problem

May 31, 2018   /   by Keirsten Robinson

Master's student Connor Alexander began his 60-day, cross-country journey on May 31 to raise money and awareness of substance abuse. Photo provided.

On one level, Connor Alexander’s planned 3,768-mile cross-country bike trip is a personal challenge.

After three knee surgeries to repair an old soccer injury, Alexander, a George Mason University alumnus who is working on a master’s degree in biology, wants to prove the doctors wrong who said he would never be athletic again.

On another level, though, the 60-day trip, from Yorktown, Va., to San Francisco that begins Thursday, May 31, is deeper, more emotional, as Alexander is raising money and awareness of substance abuse. The subject touched him through his cousin, Kirsten O’Malley, whom he said has lost three friends to overdoses. Alexander also volunteers at Thrive DC, which provides substance abuse counseling among its services for the homeless.

“To ride my bicycle across America has been a dream of mine for years,” Alexander said. “To see others’ dreams affected by alcohol and substance abuse is something that has impacted me personally. I’m passionate about raising awareness for this cause.”

He called country’s substance abuse crisis “clearly an epidemic from the West Coast to the East Coast.”

“Connor is an excellent human being,” said Gabriel Fabre, a substance abuse counselor at Thrive DC. “It seems to me that what he is doing is done for compassions, empathy and kindness he feels for people who have an addiction to alcohol, drugs or both.”

Alexander, 27, said he has raised about $1,000 so far by asking sponsors to donate to either Thrive DC or to the nonprofit, mindoversubstance.com, run by O’Malley in San Francisco. Donate here. Follow his journey on his Instagram page.

Though he is hopeful an old friend, Michael Dold, will show up in Missouri with a support van, Alexander is committed to making the cross-country trek on his own. He will be helped by maps from Adventure Cycling which show safe routes, historical landmarks, the locations of bicycle shops (for repairs), and campgrounds, churches and fire stations which offer places to sleep for free.

To train, Alexander, who finished his bachelor’s degree in biology at Mason in 2015, and is a teaching assistant at the university (anatomy and physiology), has cycled more than 2,000 miles since February. He has been slowly increasing his daily mileage, doing at least 40 miles on consecutive days. He said he will bike 70 to 80 miles a day as he goes cross-country.

“I was, like, let me think of the craziest thing I could do to say (you were wrong) to the doctors,” Alexander said. “Now, I’m pushing myself to go.”

During his journey, Alexander said he is most looking forward to “the challenge, the views, the people and 60 days of reflection.”

And making a difference.

“No one does this without getting some inner satisfaction, but that’s not the whole package,” said Mason associate professor Brenda Tondi, Alexander’s course administrator. “There’s some higher calling as well, and that says a lot about his character.”