As a team of cyclists gets ready to take part in the gruelling Race Across America in aid of San Miguel School, Jamie Iain Genovese finds out how the funds collected will help children at the school live a richer life.

In the next few days, a handful of men, (namely Patrick Schaerrer, Ross Cumming, Stephan Schaerrer and Douglas Percival), will be cycling in the Race Across America (RAAM) as the officially registered Maltese team sponsored by Integrated Packaging Systems Malta Limited. It is one of the toughest bicycle races that anyone can undertake today.

From coat to shining coast, Oceanside CA to just slightly east of Washington DC – Annapolis, MD – the road is long and goes over and through mountains, and slices across desert routes. There’s a few dozen pages of rules for the cyclists, disqualifications for not making the cut-off times and – if this wasn’t enough – the cyclists are bound to a support crew in a car that must follow them all throughout their route no matter what. And, as impressive as it is for a cycling crew to cross one end of the US to the other, I can scarcely imagine the constitution one would need to possess the patience needed to drive behind the cyclists for nine days. All of this is, in many ways, a testament to the human spirit.

But this is not my story.

I met with Alex Schaerrer, Ross’s wife, a few days before her departure to rendezvous with them and proceed with final prep during the last couple of days before the endurance race across the states. Meanwhile the team flies from Dubai – where they trained for the desert segments of the race – to Lausanne, where they will train for the mountain segments of the race.

Alex’s brother, Patrick, started doing all this in the first place in memory of his friend, Danny, who passed away after a battle with muscular dystrophy. It is in Danny’s memory that any and all proceeds from this will go towards the San Miguel School (http://sns.sanmiguel.skola.edu.mt/); more specifically, in order to raise enough funding to purchase a Custom Conversion Full-Sized Handicap Van, as theirs has broken down, a fact which has effectively cancelled all outings for the schoolchildren.

Alex’s brother, Patrick, started doing all this in the first place in memory of his friend, Danny, who passed away after a battle with muscular dystrophy

Danny, Alex tells me, loved outings, especially when he was nearing the end of his life. He loved being able to do and see new things, and adequate school transport provided him with the ability to do this.

Now, this isn’t the first fundraiser Alex’s family has geared towards San Miguel. A while ago, Alex’s mother organised an art exhibition; the funds raised went towards the renovation of the garden and some interiors, in order to improve the quality of life in the school. Function is all well and good after all, but everyone will enjoy good form.

Planning the route.Planning the route.

And, while there was indeed some overwhelmingly positive feedback (to the tune of €54,000, from various private citizens including the Knights of St Lazarus), there was also a hard-to-ignore amount of people that would preach that ‘charity begins at home’ – in other words, utterly and disturbingly unaware that San Miguel is a Maltese school, located in Pembroke. There is just not enough awareness about the goings-on of our own society.

And even then, awareness on its own will not buy the school any new modes of transport, so essential at this school. So how are fundraising efforts doing? Apparently, funds are easier to collect when there’s something to sell, or an event that people can attend. It has, indeed, been difficult, as Alex explains. “When you’re sponsoring something that is abstract and far away – despite the fact that obviously it’s going to be an incredibly difficult physical and mental hallenge for the guys – it’s very difficult for people to get excited about something like this unless you’re family, or best friends.”

Which is a shame, that we should need some personal connection to a cause or event in order to perform, or even recognise, an act of charity. After all, if we truly want to live in a society that can accept and love all of its people then we must practice what has been preached and do our utmost to recognise lacks and feel compassion, using our rational minds to come up with viable solutions for the problems we all face. What good are our war-time stories of scarcity; our village celebrations of Saints splitting cloaks for the poor; our rallies for progressive societies and good governance, if we ourselves choose blindness?

And so, this is not a story of a bunch of men doing cool, athletic feats in the US and on the global stage. Instead, it is a story of family and friends recognising a lack in their society and seeing to fill it with the tool and talents at their disposal. This is a story of men and women crossing the entire, enormous, breadth of the US, its mountains and deserts and city streets, so that the children at San Miguel can have a van to give them a fuller and more enjoyable experience.

Those who would like to donate may do so by visiting www.zaar.com.mt/projects/cycling-for-children-with-disabilities, or by making a direct bank deposit in the following account:

Beneficiary Name: Maria Schaerrer Busuttil
IBAN No: MT25 MMEB 4433 6000 0000 3321 7357 002
Account No: 033-217357-002
SWIFT Code: MMEBMTMT
Bank’s Address: HSBC Bank Malta plc, 32, Merchants Street, Valletta VLT 1173 MALTA

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