Last year Alex Ashoff met Zach Miller for the first time. Miller lay comatose on the hospital bed, his eyes open and glassy, unable to register Ashoff’s presence. While Ashoff was unable to communicate to Miller and tell him what an inspiration he has been to him, he hopes that one day soon Miller’s eyes will reopen with the same sense of vivacity that circulated through him just a few years prior.
Miller has remained in a coma since his car accident in August of 2011. His friends often comment on the irony of the situation. Miller is the last person they could ever picture in such a seemingly endless, idle state.
Miller attended the University of Pittsburgh where he was known for his resilience and determination. Miller was one of the founders of the Cross Fit program at Pitt, a training program of high-intensity workouts offered to students. Although Miller’s energy is no longer a presence among the weight lifters, his words still resonate in the walls of the gym. “I refuse to accept mediocrity from myself or others,” he has been known to have said.
Miller’s strength is uncontestable, and doctors claim that it was this physical strength that has kept him alive. Despite the growing number of days that Miller has remained in a coma, doctors have confirmed that he has been making progress and express hope in his recovery.
Ashoff plans to keep this hope alive. With Miller’s willpower in mind, Ashoff prepares to embark on a physical journey in order to revive feelings of faith and courage in the community.
Although not bound to a strict schedule, Ashoff has outlined a 60 day trip in which he will bike across the country, covering a total of 3,588 miles.
Ashoff, president of Pitt’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter, anticipates that brothers from other universities will join him for portions of the stretch in order to support Miller, who also served as president of the fraternity during his time at Pitt.
Ashoff emphasized that his trip was not designed as an opportunity to site-see and visit national landmarks. In fact, his route is specifically formed in order to visit a total of fourteen Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters. A lot of the trip, he admitted, will be a result of last-minute arrangements. He hopes other university chapters will be receptive to both himself and his mission.
When unable to be housed by fellow fraternity brothers, Ashoff plans to resort to camping. While family members will drive alongside him for portions of the trip in order to transport supplies, Ashoff will be forced to carry his belongings in a tote on his bike for the remainder of the time, explaining that certain portions of the journey aren’t conducive to cars, such as the canal that extends through the Appalachian Mountains.
Despite the daunting mileage that Ashoff is facing this summer, he said that he is not as concerned about the physical toll the trip will have on him.
“The trip is 80% mental and 20% physical,” he said.
Ashoff has consulted veterans of similar trips and said he has repeatedly received the same token of advice: Don’t stop pedaling.
Traveling through Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and finally Oregon, Ashoff has hopes that his bike tires will leave impressions on the places he goes and the people he meets.
While Ashoff’s bike ride will honor Miller and his story, Ashoff said that there is additionally a personal component to the trip.
“Growing up I was always the smallest kid and the one everyone else picked on. Middle School and High School were rough years with a lot of bullying. Once I finally hit my growth spurt the negativity started to come from within myself, not believing I was good enough to accomplish my goals. Finally I said enough and I changed my lifestyle, I started cycling.”
Ashoff explained cycling as a competition against himself, as an opportunity to better himself.
He believes the concept of the project would resonate with Miller and his values.
“It’s about pushing the limit and refusing to mediocre, and that is what Zack strives to do everyday.”
Ashoff will depart from Dewey Beach on the morning of May 5th.
To make donations to the Zach Miller Fund please visit: http://www.sigeppitt.com/zach-miller-fund.html