Brennan Besser’s decision to run and bike across the country is a personal one.
Jacqueline Besser, the Duke guard's older sister, is nonverbal and has significantly impaired motor skills, and Besser is hoping his trek and newly launched foundation, Walk On! America, will help raise awareness and funds for groups that support the intellectual and developmental disability community.
Besser will run and bike from Seattle to New York City, beginning May 16, with the goal of raising $1 million.
“It’s a very important subset of the American population and it’s global,” Besser said about the intellectual and developmental disability community. “It’s commonly hidden. So what we are really hoping to do is shine a light on a portion of the American community that doesn’t necessarily have that strong a voice. We’re hoping to bring positive awareness to this group.”
Here's more about Besser's upcoming journey.
He plans to travel up to six hours per day
Besser's plan is to complete the trip in a little more that two months, but he's keeping the schedule flexible. He's plotted the route to cover 3,400 miles in 69 days, which is an average of 50 miles per day. He plans to travel up to six hours per day.
Besser, who's from Chicago, has been on Duke’s basketball team as a walk-on player for the last three seasons. While he’s seen only two minutes of game action, he’s practiced and gone through the same conditioning regimen as his teammates.
He’s also run a mile in 5 minutes, 5 seconds.
But while the 6-5, 190-pound senior is in basketball shape, running, biking and walking across the country is a different matter.
“With the end of finals, I also started to ramp up my physical activity, especially on a bike,” Besser said. “Since I’m a part of the Duke basketball program, I do have a level of elite athleticism, but I’ve been getting on the bicycle, getting used to what that sort of level of intensity is like. You are moving different muscles than when you are on the court.”
Besser’s longest bike ride so far is between two and three hours around Durham.
A team of three to five people, including a medical professional, and two support vehicles will accompany Besser on the trip. His sister Rachel will bike with him during parts of the trip.
Besser plans to get many of his former Duke basketball teammates involved along the way. He’ll make stops in Spokane, Wash.; Billings, Mont.; Pierre, S.D.; Minneapolis; Milwaukee; Chicago; Cleveland; Pittsburgh; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; and Philadelphia between the start in Seattle and the finish in New York City.
His trip is scheduled to end in late July, which would allow him to return to the team in time for Duke's August trip to play exhibition games in Canada.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Besser's trip is a "terrific thing."
“Brennan has contributed in so many ways to our program, whether it be in preparation, spirit, or work-ethic — he's a one-of-a-kind walk-on,” Krzyzewski said. “I love him, and the spirit he brings is infectious on this team. Nothing he does surprises me, because almost everything he does is not about him. It's about his talents, his emotion and his effort to help others.”
He's learned patience from his sister
The youngest of five children, Besser is closest in age to his 23-year-old sister, Jacqueline.
Born with mental disabilities, Jacqueline Besser is nonverbal and has to use symbols on a tablet to communicate.
Besser said growing up with his sister has shaped who he has become.
“I’m proud of all the stuff that she has been through, the adversity she faces on a day-to-day basis,” Besser said.
The No. 1 thing he's learned from Jacqueline? Patience.
“She’s impacted me in a lot of ways; specifically I’ve learned to understand what real true patience is,” Besser said. “Being a walk-on on the team, you learn service. My goal is not necessarily to improve but to make others better. I really learned that primarily from Jacqueline.”
Besser remembers family outings growing up in which Jacqueline would get upset in a store and get on the ground and scream.
“We stray away from the word 'tantrum' only because it wasn’t like she was doing it because she wanted to act out but because she couldn’t express herself,” Besser said. “So when you grow up and you are outside in public and it’s all hands on deck with the family because your sister is on the ground because she’s upset and everyone is looking at you, you learn to develop a toughness in character. You are not embarrassed, because it happens all the time. You appreciate certain things. You value speech. My body is a temple. I learned that from Duke basketball but I also know that because of my sister, because she was born with disabilities.”