By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 14, 2015
ATLANTA—At the age of 59, engineer Dick Marklein is accelerating into high gear for the ride of his life: a cross country cycle from San Francisco to New Hampshire starting in late May.
Over 52 days, he will gladly strain through mountain and desert terrain, enduring thigh burn and pain with only five days of breaks, in order to raise scholarship funds for students from low-income families to attend Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School.
A member of the Knights of Columbus, Marklein has been cycling over 250 miles a week—some 3,200 miles since January—to train. That puts him at about 75,000 lifetime bike miles.
Dubbed the “Knight rider” on his GoFundMe web page, he will pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge May 31 to begin his America By Bicycle cross country challenge. With a rosary and family picture tucked in his jersey, he’ll ride with 21 other cyclists from around the country, accompanied by an ABB support team van, and complete a 13-state, 3,872-mile trek on July 21 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
He hopes to raise $30,000, enough to pay for six students to attend the unique work-study Jesuit high school program that is designed to lift capable students from across metro Atlanta to college readiness. Cristo Rey Atlanta opened in 2014 with a freshman class of 161 students. He’d like to designate the scholarships for students interested in science, math or technology.
“I am excited to begin this once-in-a-lifetime experience with so much generosity and support, knowing that every mile pedaled is both a personal journey and an opportunity for me to give back to a special cause,” said Marklein, who belongs to All Saints Church in Dunwoody.
Deacon’s homily inspired him
Marklein said he grew up on a Midwestern dairy farm with limited means. He attended a Catholic elementary school and served at the altar. He worked his way through college and graduate school to become a civil engineer and was employed for over 30 years at Kimberly-Clark. Retiring in 2013 to become an independent management consultant, he began to focus more on his faith, exercise and volunteerism. He began contemplating a cycling adventure around five years ago while watching the movie “The Bucket List.”
“I got to thinking about what are some things I’d like to do,” said Marklein, who is married with three children and one grandchild. “Exercise contributes not just to physical health but to mental health, so when I go bicycling, it’s a feeling of accomplishment. I’m doing something good for my body, and it’s a good time to get to know folks and talk about things you wouldn’t normally talk about.”
Marklein registered for the tour last November. Then he heard All Saints Deacon Bill Garrett, president of Cristo Rey Atlanta, preach one weekend. He approached the deacon after church about his idea to dedicate his ride to Cristo Rey where he had already begun volunteering. After being somewhat unsure, he followed up with an email to Deacon Garrett in January and quickly got a response—“Go for it.”
Marklein met with school leaders in February and established the ambitious goal to raise $30,000, enough for six scholarships. In March he spoke to students with his 17-pound touring bike in tow.
“He talked about his nutrition and talked about how important it is to be prepared,” said Sarah Alvarez, Cristo Rey director of communications and volunteer services. “When his journey begins, he plans on sharing with us what he’s been doing, and we, in turn, will share on Facebook. And there are certainly geography lessons as well about where he’s going.”
Marklein related well to students with their determination to work hard for a better life despite economic challenges.
“It really showed when he spoke to students. It was very heartfelt,” recalled Alvarez.
Cristo Rey ‘success rate is unbelievable’
The school’s work-study model requires students to work five days a month in corporate jobs to partially fund their education. Cristo Rey funds the remaining tuition costs, approximately $5,000 per student. In the Cristo Rey network of 28 college preparatory schools across the country, 100 percent of seniors were accepted into college in 2014.
“One thing I was primarily interested in is to earmark funds for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) focus. I happen to be an engineer by background, and I always feel that’s an area that is important for the future of where we are headed so I wanted to encourage others to go into these areas,” Marklein said.
“Their success rate (at Cristo Rey) is unbelievable. It is good knowing (the students) are going to get a chance, and I can raise scholarship funds for that,” he said. “My goal is extremely aggressive. Because of that I’m reaching out to a lot of folks.”
On the first leg, he will cross California farmland, climb the snow-capped Sierra Mountains up Donner Pass and later ride along Lake Tahoe to cross into Nevada. He’ll make another 8.5-mile climb up Mount Rose before descending into the blooming desert and sage-covered ranchlands.
Marklein looks forward to the variety of landscapes from the green mountain peaks of Utah to the prairies of Kansas —where he’s praying for cooperation from Mother Nature. Along the way he’ll inhale the vistas and snap some pictures while concentrating primarily on road safety. He once faced a bear, and another time he got chased by dogs.
Each day he’ll head out around 8 a.m. after taking care of any bike repairs with his kit of patches, tire pump and other supplies. Settling into a group of riders at his speed, he will log an average of 85 miles per day, fueling with PBJs and other snacks.
“The ride we’re doing isn’t about being fast,” he said. “You want to bike consistently and steadily.”
Modeling ‘hard work … preparedness’
To train, he is “randonneuring,” the French title for long-distance endurance cycling, and with members of Randonneur USA recently took a 193-mile round trip from Athens to the South Carolina border.
“I also do training up in the north Georgia mountains, which is really important because the U.S. isn’t flat,” he said.
He’ll make his final push to raise funds and log around 4,500 miles by the end of May.
He’s confident about reaching the mountaintop with the final Appalachian climb from New York to New Hampshire and descent to the coast where he’ll dip his wheels in the Atlantic. “I feel very well prepared. For the last two years I biked 7,000 miles each year. I have a good base of miles—that makes a big difference. Your body and arms are used to being on a bike for a long period of time.”
Marklein is providing students with both vital funds and life lessons, affirmed Deacon Garrett.
“We are grateful to Dick as he is not only raising scholarship funds for six students, but he is a shining example of the importance of hard work and preparedness to achieve your goal. All of us here at Cristo Rey look forward to cheering Dick on as he rides on behalf of our students,” he said.