After three serious accidents in three years, the Habitat Bicycle Challenge will no longer send college students on cross-country bike trips, the HBC Board of Directors announced Monday night.
The decision came after a meeting with Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven to decide the future of the annual trip, which was started in 1994. This summer, Dan Lewis ’09 was struck by a car while biking through Kansas, placing him in a coma for several months. Lewis was moved out of the intensive care unit Monday and placed in a “subacute hospital,” said his father, Hal Lewis.
Last summer, Alexander Capelluto ’08 died after he collided with a truck while training for the trip in Connecticut. In 2005, Rachel Speight ’06 was killed when she was hit by a car while biking on the trip in western Kentucky.
Jessica Bialecki ’08, a member of the HBC Board, said that in light of these accidents, the board members agreed that the nature of the trip needed to change. Bialecki added that Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven was very supportive of HBC and its decision to change the trip.
In the meeting, Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven’s Board of Directors officially voted to end the bike trip. In a statement, the board explained its vote, saying that the risks posed to students were too great to allow the trip to continue. The board also expressed its regret in ending HBC, saying the trip was the “largest and most successful fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity worldwide.”
The trip has raised roughly $2.4 million for Habitat, according to the statement, as well as generating awareness for the organization throughout the country.
Students who participated in the event in past years expressed mixed feelings about the end of HBC.
Stephen Kappa ’07, a leader on the HBC Central trip in 2005 and senior adviser to HBC for two years, said the trip will be impossible to replace. Kappa said the cross-country nature of the trip was inspirational for both the participants and for the people they met along the way.
“It’s going to take away the opportunity to take the trip across the country, and it’s so sad because it is something I really believe in,” Kappa said.
Despite their positive experiences on the trip, past participants agreed that the decision to cancel the trip was a wise one.
Bente Grinde ‘09, a participant on the 2006 trip, said the experience was “irreplaceable,” but added that the dangers of the trip were a high price to pay.
Hal Lewis said he was glad to hear that the decision had been made to cancel the HBC. Still, he said he was aware of other instances of using bicycle rides as fundraising tools and that he thought it was possible to redesign the trip.
“Maybe a week-long trip, 500 miles or something like that,” Hal Lewis said. “It just seems to me that with the 4,000-mile route, the resources that it would take to make that really safe would sort of offset the fundraising.”
The HBC Board has already begun generating ideas for a new annual trip to replace HBC, Bialecki said.
“We are extremely excited about the future of the challenge,” she said. “We really want to emphasize that we still believe in what the HBC represents through the spirit of empowering young people to make a difference.”
On Saturday, HBC riders will gather to dedicate a Habitat for Humanity home in New Haven in honor of Speight.
—Aaron Bray contributed reporting.