Breath of Fresh Air: Feature Articles

Chapter 56: Ride Across America

Brooke K., 27 years old, has a mother, sister and brother with asthma. As she grew up, she and her other non-asthmatic family members slowly learned what people with asthma go through on a daily basis. “My mother, sister and brother educated us about asthma,” says Brooke. “I think it would have been easier for them if they had had some help in teaching us.”

Brooke wants to help improve asthma education for families of asthmatics. When she heard about the Big Ride Across America benefiting the American Lung Association, she thought about using her love of cycling to raise money to educate patients and their families about lung diseases. “It’s so important for families to learn how they can help minimize asthma triggers in the home,” says Brooke. “They can clean when the asthmatic is out. They can avoid using strong household cleaners or wearing perfumes or colognes that set off asthma. There are lots of ways family members can help prevent an asthma attack.” Funds from the ride also go to advocacy for and research on lung diseases.

At this time, the American Lung Association has a few interventions underway to educate patients and their families about asthma. One program is "Super Saturdays," which local lung associations provide in inner cities to educate families and professionals about asthma. Another program is "Open Airways for Schools," through which over 10,000 parents, school nurses, and others have been trained to teach children 8-11 years old about asthma. "A is for Asthma" is another program, and it targets preschoolers, parents, and adult caregivers at schools, day care centers, head start programs, and libraries. "Children's Asthma Camps" also provide a forum for educating children and their families. Additionally, the American Lung Association provides information over the Internet on the topic of how families can help keep asthma triggers out of the home. "With more funds, the American Lung Association can do even more," says Brooke. "For example, I'd like to see asthma education workshops in the workplace."

The Big Ride Across America was the largest cross-country cycling event in U.S. history — a 3,254-mile ride with several hundred bicyclists riding from Seattle, Washington, on June 15, 1998 to Washington, DC, arriving on August 1, 1998. Cyclists were fully supported by a volunteer crew and paid staff who trucked luggage, drove support vehicles, directed traffic, fixed bikes, provided first aid, massaged sore muscles, prepared food, set up camp, etc.. Riders were given route maps each morning, rode an average of 80 miles each day, and camped out in tents each night. Every 4-7 days, we had a day off. In order to ride, each person had to raise $6,000 by June 15.

“Fundraising for the ride was not as hard as I thought it would be,” says Brooke. “People were very receptive to the cause and to hearing why I was doing it. Going door-to-door at work, at school, and in several neighborhoods, I met so many people with asthma or with family members with asthma. There are so many people who can benefit from a cause like this.” In the end, Brooke fundraised $6,224.

Brooke flew to Seattle on June 14 and departed from the Space Needle with 730 riders early on June 15. “Everyone was very excited to be united in a cause and to see the country,” says Brooke. “As we rode from Washington and on through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and DC, we shared stories with each other and with locals about why we were doing the ride. Some cyclists were riding in honor of family members who had died of asthma. Some cyclists hoped to raise money that would go toward better medications.”

Brooke says there were several inspirational riders. “Some of the riders had asthma and rode a lot faster than I did,” she says. “They’d take their preventive medications and do really well. I was pretty impressed.”

When the bicyclists rode into Washington, DC, they received a large welcome from family, friends, and locals at the Washington Monument. Brooke sums up the ride. “The ride itself was a great opportunity for everyone to learn. Not only did we learn from other people’s experiences with asthma, but I think we also taught others around the country about some important asthma issues.”

To learn more about how families can minimize asthma triggers check the Internet site, To learn more about the next American Lung Association Big Ride Across America, call 1-877-244-7433 and check the Internet site as well.