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THIS WEEK'S FEATURED STORIES

The Ashley G Ride: WHS coach cycles coast-to-coast in memory of former player

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

Pedaling more than 1,300 miles for a worthy cause wasn’t enough for James Brown. So this summer the Waccamaw High boys tennis coach will double his efforts, riding coast to coast in support of the Ashley G Foundation.

Brown’s trek from Huntington Beach, Calif., to his home in Surfside Beach is in memory of former student Ashley Gaines, who died in 2008 after a 14-month battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. David and Melanie Gaines, Ashley’s parents, established the charitable foundation to fund research and help lymphoma patients.

Brown’s journey from Texas to his home last summer raised roughly $17,000 for the cause. He and his wife, Sonja, leave Friday for the West Coast and the ride will start Wednesday with a 62-mile trip from Huntington Beach to Edgemont, Calif.

“I’ve been working on this for several years,” Brown said. “Ashley meant so much to me and doing the ride in her honer is very special. I think she would appreciate what we’re doing. She had an adventurous spirit and she always wanted to help others.”

Brown said last summer’s trip served as preparation for this year’s event, and he began contemplating the cross-country journey shortly after completing the inaugural Ashley G ride. Plans couldn’t begin to take shape until his wife’s involvement was assured.

Brown says he has the easy part. He just concentrates on cycling, while Sonja is responsible for overseeing details such as logistical support and accommodations, all while essentially maintaining her regular work schedule.

“She’s changed jobs since last summer, so we weren’t sure she would be able to go,” Brown said. “We were trying to figure out who may be able to help me without her going, but it just wasn’t going to work.

“But her new company has been very supportive. Once we got the go ahead from them, I knew everything would come together. I can’t wait for Friday so we can get started.”

Even after getting her workplace’s approval, his wife still required a degree of convincing. But given Brown’s determination and the worthiness of the cause, it wasn’t a hard sell.

“He’s pretty determined,” Sonja said. “He doesn’t give up easily. I figured I’d better get on board or risk being left behind.”

Brown will ride 2,634 miles across nine states over six weeks. He will average roughly 62 miles a day. His longest daily journey will be July 16 as he covers 107 miles between Pooler, Ga., and Charleston. The 22 miles between Almogordo and Cloudcroft, N.M., will serve as his shortest day trip on June 20. The road between the towns rises 4,333 feet.

Brown also built five rest days into his schedule.

“What James does is amazing to me,” Sonja said. “There were days last year when I was tired from just following him around all day. And I had been sitting in an air conditioned car.”

An avid cyclist, Brown, 52, is used to long rides around the Waccamaw Neck and Grand Strand, but those don’t compare to the wonders of being on the open road.

“I’m not in a race,” Brown said. “I took a lot of time putting together a schedule I was comfortable with. I want to enjoy this and be able to promote what is truly a great cause. It’s a chance to see and do things I don’t normally get to do.”

Last year’s list of out of the ordinary events included riding across the scenic Chattahoochee River bridge as he crossed from Alabama into Georgia, cruising the Selma to Montgomery Byway, touring the Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg, Miss., and throwing out the first pitch at the Greenville Braves baseball game.

Stories of Brown’s trip and the mission of the Ashley G foundation appeared in papers in Laurel, Miss., Demopolis, Ala., and Cordele, Ga., but it was the opportunity to meet everyday people and see their generosity that impacted Brown.

Brown will travel through several of the states he visited last year, but will vary his route this summer, both to visit new map spots and further promote the work of the Ashley G Foundation. He hasn’t set a specific fundraising goal, but he would like to match, if not better, the amount raised during his journey in 2011.

“The only part of the route that is really the same is the trip from Charleston back home,” Brown said. “In terms of the money, whatever happens with that happens. We’ve tried to move away from talking about certain amounts. We just want to concentrate on putting the money we do raise to good use.”

To learn more about the ride or make a donation, go to the website.

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