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ODU Rowing Club Students Sign Up for National Bike & Build Program

Emily Uperti was in summer school last year, and found the online correspondence from fellow ODU Rowing Club member Jacob Richardson exceedingly distracting.

Richardson, an economics and finance major from Norfolk, was participating in Bike & Build, a national program where enthusiastic volunteers bicycle across the United States, stopping along the way to participate in affordable-housing construction projects.

Richardson's diary, with pictures of beautiful homes being built from the ground up, as well as spectacular scenery from across the United States, was a near-daily temptation for Uperti.

"I'd be sitting there in class, thinking how much more I wished I was doing what Jacob was doing," said Uperti, a nursing major from Woodbridge, Va. "I thought, 'What am I doing in a classroom, when I can be doing something to impact people's lives?'"

So this year, Richardson is part of a contingent of four ODU Rowing Club members who will take part in Bike & Build. In addition to Uperti, Becky Holgate, an environmental engineering major from Manassas, Va., and Cassi Patterson, an audiology major from Herndon, Va., will participate in the 10- to 12-week-long rides.

This summer, they'll depart in small groups from three different locations, stopping along the way at six or seven sites to contribute whatever skills they can to help build the new homes.

On last year's trip, Richardson rode from Virginia Beach to Cannon Beach, Ore. (the route that Uperti and Holgate are riding this summer.) He said he was challenged physically to a greater degree than he had ever been. "The first week or two I've never been so sore in my life," he said. "Doing 65 to 70 miles every day is very tiring. But being part of a team of riders is so helpful. On the days where you're not feeling great, the rest of the team helps you through."

This year's route will take Richardson from Nags Head, N.C., to San Diego. Patterson will ride from Portland, Maine, to Santa Barbara, Calif.

Over eight seasons, Bike & Build has contributed $3,387,200 to housing groups to fund projects planned and executed by young adults; this includes more than $605,000 donated from the summer of 2011. Bike & Build hopes to at least match that contribution level for the summer of 2012.

Each participant is required to raise a minimum of $4,500 to participate, and that money is used by Bike & Build to fund affordable housing projects, executed by participants in communities where the cross-country rides begin. Bike & Build also supports local affordable housing organizations along each route through on-the-road donations.

In addition to getting in fantastic shape, the cause is what drew Uperti to Bike & Build.

"The whole program is dedicated to the affordable housing crisis here in the United States. Homeowners are spending a significant amount of their income on housing, which doesn't leave much money left for food, health insurance and other basic necessities," she said. "Instead of sitting back and waiting for a change, we decided to take part in changing this crisis ourselves."

Each participant in Bike & Build keeps an online diary of their experience. The four ODU students' diaries are available online:

Emily - http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/5574

Becky - http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/5573

Jacob - http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/5447

Cassi - http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/5598