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UB student plans to travel across the country and raise awareness on affordable housing

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Nick Czekaj has to bike 500 miles, run two miles a day and hit the gym whenever he gets a chance before he sets off to bike from North Carolina to San Diego.

From middle of May to the end of July, Czekaj, a junior political science, international relations and French major, will ride his bike across the country to raise awareness for affordable housing through the Bike & Build organization. This trip requires him and 30 other people to bike seven to 10 hours a day, making stops along the way to present to volunteers and community members on affordable housing and build houses to benefit the cause.

Since Bike & Build was founded in 2003 they have had 3,000 riders participate, biked around 9.5 million miles, volunteered 200,000 hours at build sites and donated $5.8 million to affordable housing organizations.

The organization offers 10 different routes around the U.S. that bikers can sign up for.

“Biking seven to 10 hours a day, present on affordable housing, build, sleep, wake up and do it all again the next day,” Czekaj said while looking at his daily summer routine.

But this isn’t something the average person can just get up and do. Bike & Build has specific requirements for their riders before going on the trip.

Czekaj has to do is raise $4,500 to cover meals, housing, a bike and tools needed to present on affordable housing to different communities throughout his travel.

He started a Go Fund Me page and is receiving donations from the Bike & Build website and has frequent meetings with possible contributors.

He has received funds from the Rotary Club of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC). The BNMC has also helped Czekaj with professional connections for both donations and his professional career.

Along with raising $4,500, Czekaj also has some homework to do before he can start his ride.

Bike & Build assigned him affordable housing curriculum research before conducting presentations and interviews. 

“Essentially you need to be the expert when it comes to presenting affordable housing on the trip” Czekaj said. “There is all this ground work you have to lay before going on the trip.”

The trip doesn’t only test knowledge on affordable housing, but it is also a physical challenge.

The organization requires Czekaj to ride 500 miles on the bike assigned to him to prepare for ride. Czekaj stressed the importance of being physically able to ride seven to 10 hours a day.

On top of the 500 miles of training, Czekaj also requires himself to run two miles a day and go to the gym during his spare time.

Just like driving across the country, the person driving must be familiar with their vehicle. Czekaj has been riding for two years, but he doesn’t consider himself an expert.

“It’s incredibly important to understand the piece of equipment you will be spending half of the summer on,” Czekaj said.

Injury is also a concern of his while going on the trip. Czekaj mentioned that in the past, three people have died while on the trip.

But this won’t stop him.

“I don’t like to stress this, considering the amount of people who have done this it is a small number,” Czekaj said.

Preparing for this trip and completing his school work is a consuming task.

Czekaj currently takes six classes and works at the same time. He is also a part of the UB Rotaract Club. But putting Bike & Build on his resume was something he couldn’t pass up.

Czekaj mentioned that he may want to get involved in community development for the rest of his life, and through “Bike & Build” he will be getting experience in the field he has interest in.

Matt Falcone, president and co-founder of the UB Rotaract Club, is happy to see Czekaj start his summer journey.

“Nick has been an integral member of the University at Buffalo Rotaract Club,” Falcone said. “We are proud to see him furthering that connection throughout the country as he travels and works to improve access to safe, affordable housing.”

Tyler Choi, another member of the UB Rotaract club, has worked directly with Czekaj.

“I commend him for his efforts to inspire his community and share his vision on the potential impact his Bike & Build journey could have,” Choi said. “There are not many individuals as well-rounded and kind-hearted as Nick today in our lives, but I'm thankful to say that I am one of the lucky few.”

Czekaj recently traveled abroad and said his experience in another country has helped him grow.

“I don’t like feeling comfortable” Czekaj said. “When I’m in an uncomfortable situation I know I am learning and growing from it.”

Czekaj also wants to create cultural awareness of bike culture because it’s “so healthy and cost effective.”

Finding the motivation to do all of this is something that Czekaj thinks about everyday. Juggling school, work and Bike & Build has him working “almost every hour of the day,” he said.

“At the end of the day I am not being forced to do anything, I’m doing because I want to do it,” Czekaj said. “I ask myself everyday if this is still it and I have not said no yet”

Evan Grisley is the assistant features editor and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com  


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