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UToledo med students biking across country before graduation to raise money for Community Care Clinics

The sun rising over Los Angeles March 20 signaled the start of a 50-day adventure for a pair of fourth-year medical students at The University of Toledo who are bicycling more than 3,200 miles across the country.

The trip is raising money for UToledo’s Community Care Clinics, a student-run organization that provides free medical care to those with limited or no health insurance.

UToledo medical students Ricky Voigt, left, and Bobby Easterling began their cross-country bike trip by dipping their rear tires in the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif. They are raising funds for UToledo’s Community Care Clinic.

“This is a way to give back on our way out from Toledo,” Ricky Voigt said. “In my eyes, this is one last thank-you to the community.”

Voigt, an Eagle Scout who will soon embark on an emergency medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is joined on the trip by Bobby Easterling, who matched with Ohio State University for his residency in internal medicine.

The pair set a goal of raising $3,267 — one dollar for every mile of their journey — but more than $6,000 was pledged to the Community Care Clinics before they rode their first mile.

“It’s a good cause and a lot of our classmates are really dedicated to it. We know they do good work out there,” Easterling said. “We’re thrilled that people are supporting this.”

Voigt and Easterling left Toledo just days after Match Day. They’ll need to reach the East Coast in time to return to Toledo for their May 10 graduation from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, giving them just over a month-and-a-half to cross the country.

To do that, they’ll need to average about 70 miles a day. They’ve scheduled a handful of rest days in major cities, but they won’t have time to linger much along the route or to have the luxury of packing it in if it rains.

In spite of that, they’re both eager to complete this journey.

“I think the hardest part is going to be just being on the bike for 45 days. I think physically it’s going to be tough at first, but you kind of get used to it,” Easterling said.

Bobby Easterling, left, and Ricky Voigt took a UToledo flag on their 50-day bike ride across the country. The medical students started their trek in Santa Monica, Calif., and will pedal more than 3,200 miles to the Atlantic Ocean.

Avid runners, Easterling and Voigt came up with the idea to do a cross-country bicycle tour after they ran the Flying Pig Marathon together last spring in Cincinnati. One of Voigt’s Scouting friends had previously done a similar trip, and he helped them decide if the trek was feasible in their time frame and develop the initial plan. Easterling, the more serious cyclist of the two, also drew on his experience participating in the 100-mile Pelotonia charity bike ride in Columbus.

Since the fall, Voigt and Easterling have been sketching out the route and ramping up their indoor training on stationary cycles.

“We’ve probably been riding about four days a week. We started out an hour or two at a time. Now we’re riding 60, 70, 80 miles, which is about four or five hours on the trainer,” Voigt said. “It takes up a lot of time. We just set up Netflix in front of the bike and go.”

Starting from Los Angeles, they are following the historic U.S. Route 66 to cut across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri into St. Louis. From there, they’ll travel east through Indianapolis, Columbus and Pittsburgh before continuing on through Washington, D.C., and on to the Atlantic Ocean.

Each is carrying about 50 pounds of gear on his bike, including camping equipment. The pair elected not to book any accommodations before the trip began to give them some flexibility in where they stop for the night.

Easterling and Voigt weren’t heavily involved in the Community Care Clinics during their time at the University, but they each have been impressed by the organization’s reach.

Nate Locke, a first-year medical student and director of administration for the Community Care Clinic, said the organization is heavily reliant on donations.

“Health care is expensive, so to have somebody who just wanted to help us out in this way was such a blessing,” he said. “Without the clinics, a lot of the people we see wouldn’t have any access to health care whatsoever. We also provide food and clothing. We try to take care of the entire person, not just the patient.”

The clinics served nearly 5,000 patients last year. Locke said the board is hoping the funds raised by the “Ricky Bobby Bike America for Community Care Clinic” campaign might be enough to cover a larger project, such as adding electronic health records.

Voigt will post updates to his Instagram, @therickyvoigt. Donations can be made on the Ricky Bobby Bike America for Community Care Clinic website.

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