Athletics News

Taking an Alternative Break from GW Athletics

A few weeks after competing in the Atlantic 10 Championships, women's swimming sophomore Bianca Valencia traveled to West Virginia with GW Alternative Breaks.

April 18, 2012

by Jess Hicks

There is no question that the George Washington University enjoys a culture of dedicated service and volunteerism. Whether it be through the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service or through clubs and local charities, GW students are constantly looking to help meet community needs within and beyond Foggy Bottom.

University-wide service events like Freshman Day of Service and a plethora of Alternative Breaks make it both easy and fun for the average GW student to give back to the community. Student-athletes, however, often struggle to find time to dedicate themselves to service between their academic schedules and athletic commitments. Despite these obstacles, several GW student-athletes chose to use some of their precious down time this year to help those in need.

Last summer, men's rowing sophomore Dylan Wong participated in the Journey of Hope, a two-month-long cross-country bike ride. Push America, a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities, organizes this annual event in hopes of raising awareness for its cause. The organization seeks participants who embody their four core values - ability, teamwork, empathy and integrity - all while serving others. Wong's experience as a member of GW's rowing team helped these characteristics shine through as he embarked on the two-month-long trek.

Wong decided to participate in the Journey of Hope after hearing about it through his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, which supports Push America as its national philanthropy. Prior to the ride, each cyclist was required to raise $5,500, which was then donated to organizations such as The Jodi House, The Miracle League and St. Jude's Hospital. Wong began the journey in San Francisco, Calif., and crossed through 11 different states before finally arriving in Washington, D.C.

"I was drawn to the trip because I wanted to take on the challenge of cycling across the country," said Wong. "As I learned more about the trip, I became more attracted to the community service that defines the Journey of Hope. I knew I would be able to expand on the community service that we do on campus."

The group, consisting of 28 cyclists, six group members and one project manager, rode an average of 75 miles each day. Every hard day of cycling was followed with 2-to-4 hours of volunteering with local organizations that serve people with disabilities.

"My favorite part of the journey was making connections with people with disabilities that we met at friendship visits," said Wong. "I was able to find a connection by talking, playing a game, or just hanging out with them. Spending time around organizations like the Miracle League and St. Jude's Hospital made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have the physical ability to ride a bike and compete on the crew team."

More recently, another student-athlete chose to step up and serve a less fortunate community, spending spring break volunteering in West Virginia. Freshman swimmer Bianca Valencia opted out of a visit to her California home or a vacation, and instead chose to further her involvement with GW Catholics while building homes for the poor.

"I love giving back to the community as much as I can," said Valencia. "This spring break was my free time and I was more than happy to give it to someone who desperately needed assistance."

Valencia traveled with 13 other members of GW Catholics to help rebuild a man's home which burned down a few weeks earlier. During their time working on the house, the team put up drywall, installed new windows, texturized the ceiling, and put in a thermostat system.

"I was a little nervous because I didn't know much about building houses," said Valencia. "The only thing I felt confident doing was painting."

Despite her reservations, Valencia felt rewarded when she finally saw the finished product of the group's extensive work. In fact, she was so moved by her time in West Virginia that she intends to participate in Alternative Breaks for the remainder of her time here at GW.

"I am certain that I will be doing Alternative Breaks for the next three years," said Valencia. "I definitely recommend an alternative spring break because it is a great way to do community service and an even better way to spend our limited free time that we have."

In addition to service trips organized by philanthropic groups and university organizations, GW is also home to a number of annual Alternative Breaks for students. The trips, staffed by the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, are organized, funded, and driven entirely by students. These student driven efforts helped the university earn a selection to the 2012 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which recognizes universities for their commitment to community service and service learning.

With student-athletes like Dylan and Bianca leading the way, the GW athletic community looks to help continue this success.