BERLIN - Two local University of Connecticut medical students have active lifestyles. They go to the gym and take hikes. But they have never taken on a big athletic challenge - until now.
Zach Giaccone, of Berlin, and Taylor LaRese, of Southington, are about midway through a 3,500-mile, two-month charity bike ride from Seattle to Connecticut.
“I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” said Giaccone, 25, other than riding his bike as a kid, and a little bike commuting. He’s in the dental program.
“The furthest west I’ve been is Florida,” said LaRese, 29, who said she did CrossFit exercise through her undergraduate years.
She’s leaning toward a career in emergency services.
The two, who expect to graduate in 2021, are among eight dental and medical school students participating in the ride, looking to raise $20,000.
It’s the 13th year for the UConn tradition of biking coast to coast for a cause, with this year’s beneficiary being West Hartford-based Mental Health Connecticut. The organization has five other offices across the state.
“(These students) are committed to making mental health a priority in their profession because they see stress, anxiety, and depression common among their fellow students,” said Suzi Craig, senior director of strategic partnerships and policy. Being a health care provider also means being aware of a person’s whole health and wellbeing, she added.
“It really, really spoke to me,” said LaRese, of choosing Mental Health Connecticut.
Mental health being a major issue in the U.S. these days may have contributed to its selection, LaRese said.
“It hits close to home,” Giaccone said.
The students have raised $13,692 as of Wednesday, mostly through an earlier auction.
With the task at hand, and their route lined up, the cycling group went to Seattle in three groupings, with Giaccone going on June 5 in the first pack and LaRese going on June 12 in the last.
The groups plan to ride about 70 miles a day, progressing from town to town along a route that will pass through North Dakota, Indiana, Pennsylvania and upstate New York on its way to Connecticut.
The riders may take a day off here and there, Giaccone said.
Portions of the route will take them through big cities, others through towns of only 80, he added.
One of the biggest challenges will be making bike repairs, since they could be miles away from civilization at certain points, he said.
The bicyclists will be bringing everything they need to support themselves, Giaccone said, noting that he was taking two saddlebags worth of gear, including water bottles and clothes.
While also using the website warmshowers.com - a hospitality exchange website - to help find local people along the route willing to give members of the group a place to sleep, the group will be bringing its tents, sleeping bags and personal Bunsen burners should they need to camp along the way.
“Everyone seems very excited,” said Giaccone of the group, which includes an IronMan participant and regular exercisers. “Everyone brings a little different experience.”
“People have been so generous,” said LaRese of its fundraising efforts so far.
The group’s efforts can be followed at uconnc2c.blogspot.com and on Instagram at instagram.com/coasttocoast2018/.
The students' fundraising is part of the MHC fundraiser for its 110th anniversary, with more information at mhconn.org/donate/be1of110.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.