Rider alumnus pedals coast-to-coast to raise money for pancreatic cancer research

Scott Phillips ’11 was spurred by a passion to help society
Robert Leitner ’17

Scott Phillips ’11 and two friends, Josh Johannessen and Jose Ignacio Alfaro, cycled across the country this summer, pushing their bodies to the limit while riding from coast to coast to raise money for research and awareness of pancreatic cancer. 

The 3,702-mile trip originated after Alfaro’s best friend lost his mother to pancreatic cancer, one of the most unforgiving types of cancer according to National Cancer Institute statistics. 

“I enjoy challenges and experiences, but I’m also a very big 'why person,'” Phillips says. "Raising money for research and awareness of pancreatic cancer was a really good 'why' for me. The theme of our trip was that ordinary people can make a difference, and we can inspire people to pay it forward.”

Phillips’ can-do spirit has accompanied him ever since he was an undergraduate at Rider University. He was the Student Government Association (SGA) vice president during his junior and senior year.

“SGA was my first opportunity to lead people with the objective of benefiting everyone," Phillips says. "I learned things like service leadership skills and how to advocate for a cause, purpose or group."

He now teaches history and psychology at Belvidere High School in New Jersey, where he is also the assistant coach for girls soccer and boys basketball. He finds teaching younger generations matches his goal to make a difference and impact the future. 

"Being in a position to benefit the public is enjoyable for me, and that's why I became a teacher and participated in the trip," Phillips says. "I wanted to serve people, make the world a better place and advocate for a cause.”

Overall, the group raised $8,000 for pancreatic cancer research, mostly from donations through their website (which is still accepting donations) and in-person donations while on the road. 

“Wherever we stopped, we handed out business cards that included our website where people could make donations online, but, more often than not, people would see our bikes, talk to us and then give us cash donations," Phillips says.

The trio of cyclists embarked from Portland, Oregon, and ended in Portland, Maine, carrying all of their gear with no other support. On average, they rode 93 miles per day, though at times the group would ride more than 100 consecutive miles in a single day. 

They completed their cross-country journey in 45 days, only five of which were rest days. The cyclists split their rest time between camping, hotel rooms and strangers’ homes that they found through an app called Warm Showers. The app helps cyclists locate people who are willing to provide hospitality such as food and a place to rest. 

“Riding a bike for hours may sound boring, but every day was a new place, new people and an adventure — at one point we even encountered a mountain lion — so I wouldn’t downplay how exciting it was to be on the road,” Phillips says. “There is beautiful scenery following the Louis and Clark Trail through Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon. We also passed through cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago and Cleveland.”

While the journey was an adventure, Phillips says it was the cause that inspired them to keep pedaling.

“We all agreed that there was going to be rough days riding, but we had to remember why we were riding and know that some people just can’t do this,” says Phillips. “The people we are raising money for with pancreatic cancer can’t do this and they are in a much worse situation than we could be. It was truly an eye-opening experience.”