April E. Clark
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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October 2, 2012
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Glenwood raft guide cycling cross-country to help Haiti

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Jay Berkes has a long road ahead of him.

And he doesn't mind a bit.

Berkes, the 24-year-old manager of Rock Gardens Rafting and the Glenwood Canyon Resort, is embarking on the Haiti 100, a 45-day solo cycling trip from Glenwood Springs to New York City, on Oct. 10. He aspires to ride 100 miles a day, crossing the country by bicycle to raise $50,000 in support of a grade school in rural Haiti affected by the latest natural disaster to hit the country.

"They were attempting to rebuild stuff after the 2010 earthquake," he said. "Another earthquake just obliterated what they had done."

As a certified emergency medical technician (EMT), Berkes was last in Haiti in early October 2011, working in a medical clinic to help the sick, injured and women giving birth.

"The amount of need there is still really high," he said. "It's just such a different situation."

Berkes was motivated to help in Haiti after working as an EMT in the emergency room at a hospital in New Orleans. He said it was not uncommon to work in areas of Haiti without electricity and proper sanitary conditions for health care.

"Delivering a baby in that environment is much different than America," he said.

Along with providing much-needed health care assistance, Berkes worked with H.E.L.P. Inc., a community-based medical and educational organization, to teach at a struggling grade school. Berkes said H.E.L.P. lost nearly 95 percent of its physical infrastructure in the 2011 earthquake.

"For the population H.E.L.P. Inc. serves, this means school children between the ages of 5 to 15 will not be attending classes for the 2012-2013 school year," he said.

Berkes' Haiti 100 ride will raise funds, as well as awareness, for the continuing need in the Republic of Haiti.

"In riding my bike from here to New York City, my goal is to ride 100 miles a day and talk with a lot of churches, universities and nonprofits, doing presentations," Berkes said. "The bicycle ride, the talks, the point is to get the school operational again. And increase exposure to universal primary education in places like Haiti."

Among the colleges Berkes plans to visit is his alma mater, Illinois State University, as well as Northern Illinois University, and locations in Kansas and Missouri. Berkes, who received his undergraduate degree from ISU in biology and molecular genetics, is taking time for humanitarian work in New Orleans and Haiti, as well as summers in Colorado as a raft guide manager, before heading to medical school.

"I'm applying for school now," he said. "I decided my point was to take three years off after college. It's always been kind of my game plan to become a doctor."

Berkes' father, a physician's assistant in Illinois, was an early influence in his decision to pursue a medical career.

"I remember my dad invited me into watch a surgery to replace an ACL," Berkes said. "It was kind of a gruesome surgery, but I was really into it."

Berkes received his EMT certification while in college and has volunteered using the skills he learned in Colorado, Louisiana and Haiti. During his 45-day bike ride, Berkes will also revisit his memories of a biking accident.

"Ironically enough, this is the longest I will have gone on my bike. I haven't been on my bike in a long time," he said. "In college, I got hit by a car and shattered my wrist. I actually have an underlying fear associated with riding I'll be addressing."

Berkes' half-way point of the trip will be his hometown of Danville, Ill., where he will visit his parents.

"They think I'm crazy, but they support it," he said. "I think I've desensitized them enough over the last four or five years that they're OK with it."

Support from parents, friends, family, and Glenwood Canyon Resort owners Kevin and Kathy Schneider will help Berkes hit his goal of raising $50,000 for the school in Haiti he loves.

"That will be a really cool Christmas present for the school and the school children," he said.

On Saturday, Oct. 6, Glenwood Canyon Resort will send off Berkes with the Gear Up for Haiti fundraising event. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., locals are invited to experience zipline and rafting activities at discounted rates, with 100 percent of proceeds going to support the school.

"I'm completely self-supported on this trip, so it's going to be an exciting day," he said. "The owners here have been really, really generous. Without these emergency funds, H.E.L.P. Inc. will not be able to regain the self-sustaining model of service provision it has maintained for over 50,000 impoverished Haitians."

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The Post Independent Updated Oct 2, 2012 01:33AM Published Oct 2, 2012 01:31AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.