This article is the first of two in a series on students pursuing charity work.
Casualty: one inner tube, one tailbone.
Gains: more suffering under the belt.”
That is how senior Zhuangchen “JJ” Zhou wrote about his 28-day bicycle ride of 1,650 miles down from Boston, Mass. to Orlando, Fla. in his blog. Initially started as an exercise in physical humility for crew, Zhou made this ride mean more for others — raising awareness for charity causes.
With the prospect of returning to China after graduation and having seen little of the East Coast during his time at Tufts, Zhou knew he wanted to dedicate his final winter break to seeing as much of this part of the United States as he could. He decided to pair his travels with his training for Tufts’s crew team.
“In the winter season, we do a lot of work on the rowing machine, but I also have a bike, and this year the winter didn’t look that bad,” Zhou said. “I said maybe I could ride down to Florida, and then I just started looking into it.”
Zhou added that he wanted a bigger cause to inspire his journey.
“I started riding, but on top of that I was trying to find a reason to do it,” Zhou said.
This reason, Zhou explained, was the New York-based nonprofit organization Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC). In an open letter on the organization’s website, RISC’s founder Sebastian Junger describes how photojournalist Tim Hetherington, a close friend of his, received a shrapnel wound while covering the conflict in Libya in 2011. Although Hetherington’s wound was not initially fatal, lack of proper medical attention on the ground led to his death. Inspired by Hetherington’s death, the organization trains and equips freelance journalists to treat life-threatening injuries in combat zones.
“Tim [Hetherington] is not the first friend I have lost in combat, but his death was certainly the most devastating,” Junger wrote in the open letter. “It has prompted me to start a medical training program for freelancer journalists so that the next tragedy can be averted.”
Hetherington was the same man who inspired Junger to found RISC who also inspired Zhou to ride for RISC’s cause.
“I was in the program for Narrative Documentary Practice through the Institute for Global Leadership my sophomore year,” Zhou said. “There was this portrait of Hetherington and he just sort of interested me.”
Zhou’s personal interests and career goals also impacted his decision to ride and raise money for RISC.
“I’m trying to make a career in photography after I graduate, so I care a lot about freelance journalism, where a lot of journalists who are working in dangerous situations are not even trained,” he said.
Zhou set up a crowdfunding page and set an initial goal of $1,600, the amount enough to train one freelance journalist.
“I wasn’t really worried about [fundraising],” Zhou said. “I guess it’s more doing something beneficial for other people along the way. It wasn’t necessarily a huge goal that I need to raise as much money as I set out to get.”
So Zhou decided to make a small adjustment — a $7,400 adjustment to be exact.
“I was hoping to just raise $1,600,” Zhou said. “Then I said, you know what, we’re in this commercial world and everybody’s exaggerating, so maybe I’ll just blow up the number to $8,000 and see how much money I can raise.”
The cyclist is well on his way to achieving his goal. According to his crowdfunding page, he has raised over $1,400 in the two months since began fundraising, Zhou said.
Although Zhou’s photography illustrates a journey filled with the beauty of riding dirt paths and traversing city streets, his blog posts titled “Day 1: On Suffering” and “Day 9: A Slippery Slope” describe the dangers and struggles of his adventure. After just two days on the road, he ran into difficulties that would have turned many back.
“The road to greatness is hard for anyone who attempts it. Setbacks are requirements for it,” Zhou wrote in his blog.
“This morning when I stepped outside of my friend Krys’s house... Immediately, I slipped a good slip and hit my tailbone on the stairs. Pain, so much pain, came to me.”
Zhou said a friend was able to pick him up before staying with him a few days while he healed. As soon as he was able to, Zhou said he hopped right back on the bike. Zhou admitted he hadn’t planned for this, but he said that preparation for an obstacle such as this is essential, especially on a long trip like the one he took.
“I knew something would go wildly wrong,” Zhou said. “What is important is that you have to expect the unexpected.”
In terms of what is next for the rower and aspiring photojournalist, Zhou describes in his blog post “Day 28: The Finish” that he wants to keep an open mind.
“Tomorrow is another day,” he wrote. “I’ll wake up, exercise, go on with life and keep suffering.”