Malvernite Sarah O’Connor always dreamed of biking from New York to California, and in April she decided to take on the herculean challenge.
“I went to the gym as much as possible and did other things — like bike the Jones Beach bike trail — two to three times a day,” the 22-year-old professional model said of her training that prepared her for the 4,000-mile trip.
She also saved money to buy the equipment she’d need for the trip — like an expensive bike and the necessary accessories. .
But O’Connor, who volunteered as a high school student at the Interfaith Nutrition Network, a nonprofit that helps Long Island’s hungry and homeless, wanted the trip to benefit others, too. The Adelphi summa cum laude graduate with a degree in history set a milestone to raise $25,000 for the INN. “I think people sometimes forget about the small community charities in their neighborhoods,” she said. “I just want to help as many people as possible at INN.”
O’Connor began her trek on June 25 from the George Washington Bridge with her friend Joey Karp, with a goal of reaching Los Angeles by September. She said the two planned to ride 70 to 100 miles a day and take every eighth day off. They will sleep in the tents and sleeping bags strapped to their bikes and backs.
She and Karp mapped their route using Adventure Cycling, a nonprofit that creates cycling maps for the Adventure Cycling Route Network. “We used about 14 different maps, and [we] are taking a couple of detours,” she said.
O’Connor, a model since she was 14, said she was in Milan, Italy, on a job earlier this year when she began planning the trip.
Dorian Stern, director of development at the INN, said O’Connor went from fashion model to role model. “She said to me, ‘The memory of what I did at the INN always stayed with me,’” Stern recalled, adding that she was thrilled that O’Connor chose to benefit a local charity.
The INN operates soup kitchens, emergency shelters, long-term housing and a Center for Transformative Change. Its Mary Brennan Soup Kitchen serves meals to the largest number of needy people on Long Island — nearly 300 a day. “Monday through Friday, we serve them a five-course meal,” she said.
The INN offers numerous other services, from a food pantry and showers to temporary and long-term housing. Its Center for Transformative Change works with guests one-on-one — offering job and medical referrals and veteran’s benefits, among other things. “We deal mostly with what dilemmas led someone to a life of poverty,” Stern said, “and we try to unravel those knots,” said Stern.
O’Connor’s mother, Danielle O’Connor, said she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter. “As a parent, I actually wonder what I did to deserve a child who is such a wonderful person,” Danielle said. “She did this on her own. Just the idea to take what you have and be generous with the gifts you have, I think is wonderful,” she added.
Her daughter said that once she reaches Los Angeles, she and Karp will probably return to New York by car. What’s the first thing she looks forward to when she returns home? “Sleep!” she said instantly.