GARFIELD, N.J. -- Pawel Maslag, a near-lifelong resident of Garfield, is biking across America this summer to raise funds and awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
The junior at Columbia spent this past summer as a counselor at Camp Boggy Creek in Florida, where he fell in love with the children battling a variety of illnesses, and with one group in particular -- the children and young adults suffering from cancer.
"This camp is a very special place, as it's for children that have serious illnesses," he told Daily Voice.
During my summer at Boggy Creek, our theme was the 'Joy of Yes,' as camp gave kids the opportunity to believe that they can do all that they can imagine. I hope to raise funds for more opportunities for young adults to be a part of such a community, and I believe that me biking across America will help the Ulman Fund provide just that -- a community of endless support.
"Each week we had a different illness group," Maslag said, "from our first week for children with heart conditions to our last week for children with sickle cell."
Maslag said one of those weeks was for kids with cancer, and those in remission and that week really struck him. Soon he was researching about how to help. He already likes working out, and he heard about the biking opportunity.
He described the Ulman Cancer Fund as a holistic way about caring for these kids. "What makes the Ulman Fund so unique and amazing is its mission to create a community of support for young adults, and their loved ones, fighting cancer and embracing survivorship."
"The idea of biking across America sounded awesome."
As part of the 4K for Cancer, Maslag will be part of a team biking from Baltimore to San Fransisco, a 70-day ride exceeding 4,000 miles. Another team will also be heading to Portland. The teams will travel through over 300 communities.
"Every time you go through a different town, you do a presentation, an informational session," he said, "especially about the social implications of having cancer at a young age."
The Ulman Cancer Fund handles the logistics, though: the route, housing -- which might be through a church, a Boys & Girls Club -- and meals.
The non-physical part of Maslag's journey is raising $5,000 for the Ulman Cancer Fund. Each rider is trying to raise $4,500, but he's aiming a bit higher. As of Tuesday morning, he's raised $1,770.
He said his trip is being separately funded, so all donation will go directly to the Fund and its programming.
"When I do tell people about my plan, people say, 'Oh I wish I could do that too,'" Maslag said, but he tries to emphasize that anything they do is really empowering -- "whether it's doing a cross-country trip, holding a simple fundraiser, donating monthly, or even talking to friends and family about things you care about."
He recounted the story about the starfish. "There's an old man on the beach, and there's thousands of starfish that have washed up onto the beach. They're everywhere.
"A little girl walks along, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean.
"As the little girl approaches the old man, he laughs and says, 'What do you think you're doing? There are thousands of them. You can't make a difference; you can't save them all.'
"She looks at the starfish, and looks at the old man, and says, 'Maybe I won't be able to save them all. But it'll make a difference to this one.'"
Also, if this sounds like a challenge you might be up to, the application period is still open, until Feb. 15, for both the biking trip and also a running version. Click here for all the details.