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Alumna Takes a Big Ride for Charity

Tia Geissler (center) with Husband, Seth, and a friend during the 1998 GTE Big Ride Across America

By Tami Dimock

"It was, hands down, the most rewarding and adventurous thing I've ever done," says Tia Geissler, B.A. English/Government and Politics '95. "We rode through 11 states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C."

Geissler is referring to her recent experience as a participant in the 1998 GTE Big Ride Across America, a 3,254-mile cross-country bicycle expedition benefiting the American Lung Association (ALA). Geissler and her husband, Seth, were among 730 riders from around the nation who raised a total of $6.3 million to help prevent lung disease and promote lung health. The ride, which began on June 15 and lasted 48 days, took them from Seattle, Wash., to Washington, D.C. It was the largest single fund-raiser in ALA history.

"We rode anywhere between 50 and 120 miles per day, but the average ride was 80 miles," says Geissler, a procurement manager at American Express Travel Related Services in Northern Virginia. The cross-country route took them across several mountain ranges, including the Cascades, the Rockies, and the Appalachians--pretty rough terrain for someone who hadn't been on a bike in 10 years. "A large part of why I wanted to do it was that I had never in my life done anything athletic," Geissler says. "I wanted to push beyond my own limits."

It was Seth who saw the Big Ride ad in a local newspaper back in 1997. He and Geissler had been discussing ways to get more exercise, so he decided to run the idea past his wife. "I said yes right away," she says. They began training immediately, and the rest is history.

"Seth and I had an amazing time. People thought it would drive us crazy to spend so much time together (47 nights in a tent!), but it brought us even closer together," Geissler says. "It was great to be able to share this unbelievable adventure with someone I love, and who is my best friend."

At times, the going got pretty tough. Geissler describes the ride through Wyoming as the most difficult part of the seven-week trek. "The terrain was relentless--rolling hill after rolling hill," which can be more challenging than ascending mountains, she says, because mountains have a "slow, continuous grade, with a big pay-off once you cross the peak." In addition, Wyoming's landscape, although beautiful in a rugged way, offered no relief, says Geissler--not even shade trees. "These were some of our longest rides, too," she says, "and there were lots of rattlesnakes around."

Besides avoiding rattlesnakes, Geissler endured a number of physical challenges along the way, including extreme dehydration that landed her in the hospital one night, hands so cramped she couldn't make a fist, a back and neck that "ached ferociously," numb feet, and sore knees and arms, not to mention an acute pain in the posterior. "Let's just say I'm now an expert on all the best balms and ointments!" she notes.

But the aches and pains gradually subsided as the summer days wore on, and the overall good of the experience far outweighed the bad. Geissler and her husband made many new friends along the way, saw a large portion of the country, and raised money for a worthy cause. Both felt a "huge emotional high" upon rolling into the nation's capital at the finish of the exhausting, yet truly exhilarating, journey.

The Big Ride made a lasting impact on Geissler's life. "It was hard to settle back into normal life when we got home," she says. But she and Seth already are making plans for their next cycling adventure. "Habitat for Humanity has a cross country ride that follows a southern route, and they build houses along the way. We'd like to do that."

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