WEST SPRINGFIELD – After nearly losing his life, one Rotarian was inspired to cycle across country to benefit others.
Keith Harris, a long-time member of the Ipswich Rotary Club, faced death at 44 when a staph infection resulted in three strokes, organ failure and open heart surgery. Now 50, Harris has spent this summer cycling across country to raise funds for The Rotary Foundation. With only a couple days left to travel, he has raised just under $32,000.
Harris began his 4,400-mile solo trek in June, departing from Seattle, Wash., and will complete his journey on Aug. 16 in Merrimack, his hometown. He spoke to the West Springfield Rotary Club about his travels on Aug. 12.
“I’m torn,” Harris said. “The toughest part [of this trip] is the fact that it’s coming to an end.”
While Harris cannot wait to come home to his wife of 22 years, Christina, he is sad to leave behind the people he’s met along the way. “From the beginning, she was 100 percent there in support of this trip,” he said.
“My life is a tapestry. [During this trip] I’ve woven in a lot of threads of people that I never knew that are now part of my story,” Harris said. Along the way many strangers opened their homes and offered donations, food and conversation to Harris.
This is the second time Harris has ridden across country, having done so at age 28 just before getting married. “This time I wanted to do something with it,” Harris stated.
When a fellow Rotarian asked Harris what he’s learned from the trip, he responded, “I’ve learned, first of all, to dream big and to work hard to make that dream happen, but then to be open to the fact that your dream is likely to change. When you dream big, other people become part of your dream, it’s shared.”
He continued, “And, it’s like having a child, it really is. So many people’s stories have been woven into it and every one has changed it in a way that I didn’t anticipate. You have to step into the moment, otherwise it passes you by.”
Harris’ jersey states, “Peddle for a Purpose.” He said he is riding to celebrate the fact that he is still alive and to help a foundation that he’s witnessed first-hand that benefits others.
“I wanted to see this country in the best way you can see it, on the back of a bike,” Harris said. He told the audience that he purposely toured areas of the country that are considered “the underbelly” of “America the Beautiful” because he wanted to experience the full depths of how people exist in this country. “I rode through place that people encouraged me not to,” Harris said.
He explained riding the less-traveled route enabled him to see the diversity of American life and that he shared time with inspiring people that he wouldn’t have met had he taken another path.
One of the biggest impressions left upon him was by a young girl who lived on the Sioux reservation in Fort Thompson, South Dakota. Although she had never traveled to Boston, the 11-year-old incorporated an American Flag bandana and steps she called her “Boston Shuffle” into her sun dance to honor the children that were injured in the Boston Marathon bombing.
To learn more about the trip and to read stories of the people Harris has encountered, visit http://pedalingforapurpose.com