Conquering Coast to Coast ’21

They took slightly different paths, but the UConn Health students who decided to spend the summer bicycling cross-country, carrying on a 16-year school tradition, are back.

Crowd greets June Chu as she arrives on her bicycle at academic entrance

Friends greet UConn medical student June Chu as she returns to the UConn Health campus by bicycle. Chu spent the previous two months cycling nearly 3,000 miles from Anacortes, Washington, for the 2021 Coast to Coast for a Cause ride. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

The next couple days it will probably hit me. — June Chu

As the global community celebrates its Olympians, the UConn Health community is also celebrating an achievement in physical and mental perseverance from a self-described unlikely athlete.

After two months and nearly 3,000 miles, rising second-year medical student June Chu has pedaled her way back to the UConn Health campus, all but completing the cross-country bicycle tour that is now a 16-year medical and dental school tradition.

June Chu hugs friend
UConn medical student June Chu hugs one of the friends who welcomed her back from her cross-country bicycle tour. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

“The biggest challenge was getting into shape and believing my body could do it, because I don’t have any athletic experience whatsoever, unless you count playing softball in second or third grade,” Chu says.

Chu, with anyone who wishes to join her, will complete the 2021 Coast to Coast for a Cause Saturday morning, pedaling the final 40 miles from Farmington to Madison to reach the Atlantic Ocean waters of Long Island Sound. She and rising second-year dental student Alex Estanislau started the journey on the Pacific Coast in Anacortes, Washington, June 10. Estanislau made it most of the way before suffering an injury that forced her to leave the ride in late July.

Chu arrived Thursday to a cheering group of supporters at UConn Health’s academic rotunda.

“I don’t think I really imagined what this day would be like, because I didn’t know if it would ever come,” Chu says. “The next couple days it will probably hit me. I did a lot of processing on the road, and I think we were just really lucky to have so many strangers — not strangers anymore, but new friends — that we met along the way and really took care of us, physically, but also, they also believed in us. That gave us the motivation to keep going even when we were physically having a really rough time.”

Alex Estanislau and June Chu with their bikes on the shore
Alex Estanislau (left) and June Chu begin the 2021 Coast to Coast for a Cause cross-country bicycle tour from the Pacific coast in Anacortes, Washington. (

The cause this year is Hollywood legend Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, located in Ashford, where seriously ill children have camp experiences at no cost to their families. So far this year’s ride has raised more than $12,000.

“A lot of it was just trying to force my body to do it, and then believe in myself and having Alex coach me through,” Chu says. “As we got east, it started getting easier, because we were more in shape and we had a little bit more confidence after we took on those big 4,000- and 6,000-foot peaks. I think we did good. I’m proud of us. I miss Alex.”

The students were in eastern Michigan, about 2,700 miles into their trip, when Estanislau fell from her bike and injured her shoulder. She and ended up getting surgery the same day Chu arrived at UConn Health. The day before, Chu stopped to visit Estanislau, who was at her parents’ home in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

Alex Estanislau and June Chu with their bikes by the Logan Pass sign
Alex Estanislau (left) and June Chu at the Logan Pass continental divide in Montana, elevation 6,646 feet (

“With June biking on her own, I was definitely a little bit concerned safety-wise,” Estanislau says. “But we had come this far and we were so close to home and I was just excited to see her finish her journey. We had climbed so many mountains and overcome so many obstacles, the remainder of the trip was going to be a piece a cake. If she could get through that stuff she could 1,000% get through the rest of the trip, even on her own. By the time we parted ways I could see the confidence that had grown within her and I was so proud of her and honored to a part of this growth.”

Chu was determined to finish the ride solo, both for her injured teammate and for Henry Bender, a manager at the Central Wheel bike shop in Farmington, who had befriended the students and prepared them for their ride with encouragement as well as bicycle expertise. Word of his death in a car accident reached the students while they were in North Dakota.

Alex Estanislau and June Chu by the giant "Minnesota Welcomes You" sign
Alex Estanislau (left) and June Chu on day 35 of their cross-country cycling tour, arrving in Minnesota (

“Alex and I had gotten each other through so much of it together and we really wanted to both start this together and finish it together. We definitely worked really well as a team,” Chu says. “I wanted to finish the trip, for us, for myself, and also, because of Henry. He was really proud of us, and he really believed in us, and I felt like I just wanted to finish it in his honor as well. So that was a big motivation.”

Chu decided to originate the final 40 miles from Central Wheel as a tribute to Bender.

The students kept a blog of the trip and plan to add to it over the next several days. They also have been sharing photos on Instagram, @uconncoast2coast2021.

“Overall I think that regardless of how things ended, this was such a successful trip,” Estanislau says. “With all the odds that were stacked against us we really crushed it. We had a little training and very little realization what we were getting ourselves into but we worked together and we were an incredible team. There were lots of hard days but there were so many things that we got to experience that really helped motivate us through those hard days.”

Those wishing to support this year’s ride still can, by way of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp’s 2021 Coast to Coast for a Cause event donation page.

June Chu greeted by fellow medical students at the UConn Health academic rotunda
Fourth-year medical students Keanna Chang (left) and Liz Rodier (right), who completed the 2019 Coast to Coast for a Cause ride, congratulate June Chu upon her arrival to campus. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

“I feel like the trip is hard, but it’s not as hard as dealing with other stuff, like medical school in some ways, because all you have to do is keep pedaling,” says Chu, a UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate. “There’s none of the complexities of interpersonal relationships or studying for some really complex topic. You just keep pedaling. You just have to be willing to suffer a little bit.”

And Estanislau says she plans to go back to eastern Michigan and complete the ride from there to the Atlantic, in due time.

“I think the biggest thing that I learned from this trip was having patience,” she says. “There are so many things that are unpredictable and out of your control and the only thing you can do is take a deep breath and keep moving forward.”