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Students Return from California … by Bike

Coast to Coast riders Melina Benson, Sean Burn and Nate Windon

From front: Melina Benson, Sean Burn, and Nate Windon arrive at the UConn Health Center after cycling nearly 4,000 miles for the previous seven weeks. (Sarah Turker/UConn Health Center Photo)

After seven weeks and nearly 4,000 miles, the three UConn students making up the 2012 Coast to Coast for a Cure cycling team returned to the UConn Health Center.

“It feels great, but I feel pretty disoriented,” says rider Nate Windon, a graduate English student in Storrs. “It started to sink in a little bit as I saw some familiar places the last couple miles. But I think after a couple days, when we’re stationary, that’s when it will feel like we’re home.”

A small crowd of faculty, friends, family, and classmates gathered at the Health Center’s academic entrance Monday afternoon to cheer the arrival of Windon and soon-to-be-second-year medical students Melina Benson and Sean Burn.

Nate Windon follows Melina Benson over the Mississippi River on Day 37.

Nate Windon follows Melina Benson over the Mississippi River on Day 37. (Photo courtesy of coasttocoastforacure2012.blogspot.com)

“It’s a challenge both physically and emotionally, and I think that the emotional part is arguably harder than the physical part,” Benson says. “I wasn’t sure that I could complete the journey until this morning.”

Coast to Coast for a Cure goes back to 2006, when two first-year medical students decided to fly to San Francisco and spend the summer pedaling home to raise money for Lea’s Foundation for Leukemia Research, a Hartford nonprofit and philanthropic supporter of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center. Every summer since, a new team consisting primarily of UConn students fresh off their first year of medical school has continued the tradition.

Sean Burn takes a break while crossing through the Sierras on Day 5.

Sean Burn takes a break while crossing through the Sierras on Day 5. (Photo courtesy of coasttocoastforacure2012.blogspot.com)

“It was an amazing trip,” Burn says. “It’s just a completely different experience when you’re entirely reliant on your body to get you from one place to the next and you’re moving at anywhere between 8 and 30 miles an hour,depending on the type of terrain that you’re on. So you’re moving a lot slower, you’re going shorter distances every day, you’re seeing a lot more, and talking to a lot more people, so I think it’s a unique and incredible experience.”

When they were able, the riders posted photos and updates on their trip to a blog: coasttocoastforacure2012.blogspot.com.

The 2012 journey officially ends later this summer, when the team leads a ride from the Health Center to the Connecticut shoreline. All are invited to join the riders for the last leg of the trip, which ends with the tradition of dipping their tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

Coast to Coast riders Nate Windon, Sean Burn, and Melina Benson

The 2012 Coast to Coast for a Cure team, from left: Nate Windon, Sean Burn, and Melina Benson. (Sarah Turker/UConn Health Center Photo)

“Doing this trip and completing it gave me a sense of confidence, one that I draw from not only doing the trip but also doing it for a good cause,” Benson says. “I’ll definitely take that with me for this next year, and probably for the rest of my life.”

The 2012 Coast to Coast for a Cure has raised more than $23,000 for Lea’s Foundation, and the campaign to support this year’s ride remains open. Pledges can be made through the riders’ blog or at leasfoundation.org/coast-to-coast.

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