Cyclist Raises Awareness and Money for ALS Research Funds to Honor Mentor
Photos courtesy of Wil Armstrong
Wil Armstrong’s nightly routine likely looks a bit different than the average new alum’s. He often parks his bike in front of a stranger’s house, knocks on the door, self-designed business card in hand, and asks to string up his hammock in their yard for the night.
Armstrong, who graduated in May with a Master’s in Finance from the University of Maryland, isn’t down on his luck or lost—he has traveled nearly 3,700 miles across the United States by bike since June when he set out from Rehoboth Beach, Del., to raise awareness and money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research. With the trip scheduled to end in Washington state on Labor Day, he’s been getting along as the spirit moves him, or those he encounters.
An avid cyclist his entire life, he biked the C&O Canal Trail—186 miles—in one day at age 17. He’s since racked up a streak of ultraendurance feats with his fellow Terp Colin McLaughlin ’20, including running a 4x4x48 ultramarathon (four miles every four hours for 48 hours) and running a marathon backward just last year.
While he prepared himself physically and financially for this latest journey, he chose to leave some of the details open-ended, relying on his faith and the kindness of strangers
“I have my own connections and random connections I’ve made along the way of people graciously allowing me to stay on their property,” said Armstrong. “I thought, ‘I’m an Eagle Scout, I need to be prepared.’ ... I have my elevator pitch down.”
He's had at least one experience that felt like actual divine intervention, he said. In Montana, broken down by the side of the road, he experienced what would be almost inconceivable as a coincidence. On a cross-country road trip himself, Armstrong’s freshman year roommate, Brady Osterman ’20, M.S. ’21, drove by a stranded Armstrong, his bike broken on the side of the road.
“It was a blessing,” said Armstrong. “You can’t prepare for that.”
Armstrong conceived of the trip after witnessing the impact of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, on his former spiritual mentor and basketball coach, Rodney Lapp, Armstrong dedicated his trip to honor Lapp, who died in October 2019 from ALS. Lapp had encouraged Armstrong spiritually during his formative years, and was himself a cyclist who enjoyed the C&O Canal Trail in Maryland.
“When people look at this trip, I want them to see ALS and the struggles people who have it go through,” said Armstrong. “Anyone suffering would give anything to ride a bike, and I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to show that.”
He also centrally tied the trip to his Christian faith.
“I just graduated and I wanted some time to deepen some relationships spiritually,” said Armstrong. “What’s the difference in working 40 years of my life, to now working 39½ years following this trip? I’m creating a good foundation for the rest of my life.”
Even with the support of both strangers and his family and friends who supported him, cheered him on and helped him approach his $25,000 fundraising goal, Armstrong has had to embrace the challenges of solitude on the road.
He spends a lot of time listening to audiobooks and podcasts, as well as praying for people along the way, never ducking the challenge of what’s doing.
Most cyclists bike West to East Coast because of the prevailing wineds,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to embrace the struggle and go against wind.”
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