Three students — two medical and one dental — are back in Connecticut after spending the last seven weeks carrying out the annual UConn Health tradition of cycling cross-country to raise money for charity.
Julia Neri, Dustin Moore, and Brian Legato arrived to a cheering crowd of classmates, friends and family members awaiting them at the academic entrance on the UConn Health campus Monday afternoon.
“Riding into UConn Health [Monday], I was overwhelmed with the excitement of being home, the pride of finishing an amazing accomplishment, and gratitude for all the support we received over the past two months,” Neri says. “I will hold the memories from this trip forever.”
The final stretch of the 2022 Coast to Coast for a Cause ride came a day later, when the cyclists, and anyone who wants to join them, pedaled from Farmington to Madison, officially ending the ride when their bike tires touched the Atlantic waters at Hammonasset Beach State Park.
“It really is an incredible feeling to finish,” Legato says. “I kept commenting on our last ride [Monday] about how crazy and surreal it felt to be back home. It really has been one of the biggest accomplishments of my life and something that I am going to remember forever.”
They started on the Pacific shore in Anacortes, Washington, more than 3,000 miles away, June 6.
“I wish I knew how short it was actually going to be,” Moore says. “In the moment it seemed like it was taking forever, but now that it’s at the end it feels like we blinked and it was over.”
Neri adds, “I would pass along to future years to soak in every single moment of the adventure and to not take anything for granted.”
The cause again this year is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, in Ashford, a free summer camp for children who are dealing with medical problems, founded by celebrity Paul Newman.
By the time they crossed the Connecticut state line, the students had raised more than $16,000, which does not include additional pledges. The team is still accepting donations on behalf of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
“I want to thank everyone who has been incredibly generous to donate to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp,” Neri says. “With everyone’s help we have been able to raise enough money to send at least six children to camp, where they will be able to receive a different kind of healing for their serious illnesses.”
Neri, who’s from Wallingford, is an MD/MPH candidate, with aspirations to go into pediatrics. Her undergraduate studies at UConn included public health as well as biological studies, Spanish and Latino studies.
“This summer has opened my eyes to the immense generosity of friends, family, and even those people we had never met prior to this trip to open their homes to us,” she says. “It has allowed us to meet incredible individuals and form new friendships.”
Legato, who grew up in Colchester, is a second-year dental student with aspirations to both practice and teach.
“The biggest surprise for me was just how fast we began to go toward the end of the trip,” he says. “It took two weeks to get through Montana but we traveled through the entire second half of the country in the same amount of time. It must have been our urge to get home as soon as we could!”
Moore, of Berlin, New Hampshire, also is going into his second year of medical school. He hasn’t decided which specialty to pursue yet.
“I’m surprised at how our bodies were able to adapt so quickly and be able to handle the stress of a trip like this — at some point it was our minds that needed resting before our bodies did,” he says. “It’s pretty surreal. It’s hard to believe we actually did it, but it’s something I’ll never forget, or let anyone else forget for that matter.”