PROVO — When Matt and Amber LeBaron, siblings and business students at Brigham Young University, decided to ride their bikes across America, they didn’t want to just check it off their bucket list — they wanted to help make a difference in the lives of nearly 3 million of Americans with type 1 diabetes.
The LeBarons completed their bike ride of more than 2,500 miles in 35 days. They started on the coast line of San Diego, Calif., and ended at the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., at the end of May.
Matt and Amber used their bike ride to raise awareness and funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. They said they grew up with a family member who has type 1 diabetes, and they saw all that she suffered with this disease. They’ve also seen how research has helped her life.
Amber said their goal in raising money for the foundation is not just to help find a cure, but to improve treatment and care for those who live with diabetes. She said that every little bit helps.
So far, the LeBarons have raised more than $3,800. Donations are still being accepted on lebaronsonbikes.blogspot.com, and all donations go directly to the foundation.
The LeBaron siblings got the idea to ride their bikes across the country from their grandmother, Virginia Oldroyd, who rode her bike from Orem, Utah, to Washington, D.C., more than 20 years ago. When her grandchildren told her what they wanted to do, she thought it sounded too dangerous, but said she couldn’t tell them not to do it since she’d already done it herself.
Eventually, Oldroyd decided the safest option would be to follow her grandchildren on their bikes in her car. This way she could carry their gear and water bottles and safely get them to rest stops — and the emergency room — along the way.
Oldroyd said it was difficult to drive sometimes as slow as 5 miles per hour to keep the pace of her grandchildren, who at times rode through rain, wind, hills and rough roads.
“They just went forward with it and accomplished their goals,” Oldroyd said. “That made me very proud of them.”
The siblings, who had never been big bikers before, averaged 87 miles a day, starting out with 40 miles on their first day and 124 miles on their best day, according to their blog.
Oldroyd said there were definitely moments when she would not have been critical if they had decided to quit, but she saw their character when they refused to give up.
"We couldn’t just stop and not finish when we had all these people who were supporting us and cheering us on," Matt said.
One particularly difficult moment of the trip was when Amber was attacked by a dog and fell off her bike. She ended up with a concussion and a sprained wrist that set the siblings back two days and had everyone involved worried that they would not be able to finish their trip. But after a few days, Amber was back on her bike and they continued forward.
“One of the biggest things I learned is that I can do hard things if I put my mind to it,” Amber said.
Including the time Amber got a concussion, the siblings ended up in the emergency room three times during the trip, once because Matt had bug bites that got infected. He said he tried to make the most of the experience and help make everyone in the hospital’s day better.
“I was talking to them and asking them how their night was going and what they like to do for fun,” he said. “It wasn’t long before they all kind of changed their attitude. They started asking about the bike trip and all these nurses were coming in and wanting to read our blog.”
Sundays were their rest days, and they always made sure to stop at the local chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By chance, they ended up at Spanish wards several times, but people always offered to translate, and both LeBarons were impressed that everywhere they went the LDS Church was the same.
Matt said one of his favorite parts of the trip was being able to see so much of America.
“Every place is different, but it’s all so beautiful,” he said. “My favorite part was biking on the beach in Mississippi. I didn’t know Mississippi had beaches!”
Matt said he found it ironic that during the last 60 miles of their trip, they ran into a huge rainstorm in Florida, one mile per hour short of being classified as a hurricane. But, they decided to finish anyway and they made it despite the wind that he said was “trying to blow us over.”
All of the family agreed that one of the best parts of the trip was all the time they got to spend together. Matt said that even though you can get sick of people after five weeks, he misses his sister and his grandma now that he's at an internship in Virginia. Amber said she and her brother have created a special bond after doing something so hard together. Their grandma said she enjoyed watching how they treated each other the whole trip.
“You don’t get a chance to do things like that with your family that often,” she said. “It was a joy to be with them. They were happy, they were dedicated to their purpose and it was really fun.”
Now that the siblings are done and their sore muscles are almost recovered, they can get on to the rest of their bucket list.