Fishhook, Ill. (IOCC) As the cyclists of the "Race to Respond" ride across the country, their team effort has become a powerful symbol for the humanitarian work of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).
"Each day, our team becomes more comfortable with each other," cyclist Michael Tsakalos wrote in a journal the cyclists are keeping. Day 10 Monday, Aug. 12 took the five cyclists across the Mississippi River and into Missouri.
In the same way, IOCC's humanitarian mission is made possible by the coordinated effort of Orthodox Christians of all backgrounds. IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, and its work is truly a team effort, relying on the cooperation of volunteers, parishes, Church officials, governments and local partners.
Even the technical aspects of cross-country riding have something to teach about IOCC's humanitarian work and the people who benefit from it.
"We are now cycling more as a team and utilizing paceline and drafting techniques," Tsakalos said in the journal.
According to "Race to Respond" sponsor Penny Troutner, owner of Light Street Cycles in Baltimore, cyclists "paceline" when they ride close to each other in single file. "Once they learn to do that, they're a much more efficient riding team," Ms. Troutner said.
Similarly, IOCC has learned over 10 years that working closely with local partners is the best way to help people help themselves after a natural or man-made disaster.
Ms. Troutner noted that "drafting" is the technique of riding close behind someone so that the wind is deflected. "If you cycle alone," she said, "all the wind is hitting you and you get tired a lot faster. If you're cycling as a group, each person can 'draft' off the person in front of him."
Through its programs of relief and development, IOCC has been able to deflect the winds of war, poverty and natural disaster for vulnerable people in 21 countries.
Tsakalos said riding cross-country is a challenge, but it's nothing compared to the challenges that confront war refugees, drought-stricken farmers or abandoned children.
"It's hard to complain about the difficulties of travel the poor road conditions, the speeding tractor-trailers or the lack of the comforts of home when I think about the people served by IOCC who have overcome worse circumstances on a daily basis, as a matter of survival," he said.
"In places like the West Bank, for example, people take their lives into their hands every day just to travel to the store or go to work," he said. "The days are long and tiring, but satisfying to know that we are helping to raise awareness and support for IOCC with each mile traveled. This is our motivation. This is why we ride on."