Mepham graduate turned Baylor student to take on cross-country bike ride with fraternity


Not everyone can say they’re planning on driving across the United States in a car — and far less can say they’re making the journey on two wheels, instead of four.

Nicholas Zuzzolo, 21, of Bellmore, is preparing to do just that. A 2021 graduate of Wellington C. Mepham High School in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, he will be making a cross-country trip on bike next month, alongside dozens of other young men his age, while taking part in a “Journey of Hope,” through the Ability Experience.

The Ability Experience is a philanthropic initiative of Pi Kappa Phi, the fraternity that Zuzzolo is a member of at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The philanthropy was founded in 1977, and strives to instill a passion for lifelong service in its members, while helping them empower people living with disabilities across the United States.

Zuzzolo, a finance major at Baylor, will graduate this coming fall, a semester early. The philanthropic work he’s undertaken with his fraternity has been a “big part” of his experience at Baylor, he said.

“We’re the one fraternity nationwide that has its own specific philanthropy — it’s called the Ability Experience,” he explained. “It ties in children with disabilities, just making sure they have a fair shot getting involved with extracurriculars around the country.”

Members of the fraternity have been taking part in the Journey of Hope for the last three decades. Teams of riders, consisting of around 20 to 30 people each, will embark on different cross-country routes, and bike around 4,000 miles over the course of 60 days. Riders will average around 75 miles per day on a trip that tests their limits, while also spreading awareness and celebrating the abilities of everyone.

Zuzzolo learned about the Journey of Hope through members of the fraternity, who shared that it was a life-changing experience, motivating him to take on the challenge. This is his first time taking on a bike ride of this extent.

“One of my mentors here at Baylor, he did this last summer,” Zuzzolo said. “I talked to him almost every day, and he just told me how much he loved it. It was definitely one of the hardest things he’s ever done, but definitely the most fulfilling.”

Each rider needs to raise a minimum of $6,500 through a donation link, a total Zuzzolo has already met.

When you’re working to raise money for the benefit of others, you don’t always see its impact, Zuzzolo said, but the Journey of Hope allows riders to meet groups and organizations that the Ability Experience helps.

“Along the way, we’re going to stop by local organizations that help children with disabilities,” he said. “Oftentimes, when we raise money for philanthropy, we never really see the impact of where the money’s actually going. What’s nice is all the money that I’ve raised, I get to see it go back to one of the organizations that we’re meeting with.”

He’s riding with a team that will depart from San Francisco on June 9, following the ride’s “north route.” Throughout their journey, the riders will meet up with the other team that’s starting in Seattle, and eventually, they’ll all arrive in Washington D.C. together on Aug. 10, marking the end of the journey.

Overnight, riders stay at churches, YMCAs and schools, who offer food and housing.

Donations on Zuzzolo’s link will be accepted through the end of the trip. So far, he’s raised $6,700. To contribute, visit

Members of his fraternity also participate in a shorter journey that treks across Florida, but because Zuzzolo will graduate in the fall, he wanted to take on the much longer journey.

“I just decided that I only have one year left,” he said, “and I might as well just hop straight into it and just take on the bigger challenge right now.”

And while Zuzzolo has been training, and riding his bike in the early mornings before classes, several unknowns remain heading into the ride.

“I don’t think anything’s really going to prepare you for anything of this extent,” he said. “It’s just hands on training outside. No one knows what it’s going to be like on the journey, but you’ve got to get used to all different climates. And on top of the physical stuff, you do have to train mentally.”

Riders will be biking alongside crew members, who also have to raise money for the Journey of Hope’s cause. Crew members will ensure the safety of participants, help them through mechanical problems, keep riders hydrated and provide shelter, should they encounter a major weather event that would make bike riding unsafe.

Fundraising efforts have reached home, Zuzzolo’s dad, Jeffrey, explained.

“It’s mainly people in the community,” he said. “Once I got the word out there, talking with them, it kind of pulls on your heartstrings and people have hit this (fundraising) goal.”

Local elected officials, including State Sen. Steve Rhoads and County Legislator Michael Giangregorio, who’s been a longtime advocate for the autism community, have also offered their support. And in Texas, Zuzzolo has also gained the support of Congressman Pete Sessions, whose son has Down syndrome.

Zuzzolo has been a member of sports teams his whole life, he said, which has helped with the physical and mental preparation he’s taken on to get ready for his bike ride.

“I’ve done things that kind of push you past your limits,” he said, “but for this, you just have stay on the bike.”