Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

From Austin to Alaska: How high school teacher inspired her former student to bike across country

Courtesy of Avery Wong

The impact of an altruistic high school teacher can go far, but for Avery Wong, a neuroscience and Plan II sophomore, the impact went extremely far — over 4000 miles, to be exact.

On May 25, Wong departed on a summer-long bike ride from Austin to Alaska along with 75 other riders on the Texas 4000, the world’s longest annual charity bike ride. From a passion for funding research initiatives to a desire to spread hope for people affected by cancer, riders with the student-run nonprofit vary in their motivations.

“(Cancer) patients and their families need to know they aren’t and will never be fighting alone,” biomedical engineering junior Maanas Gupta said in his rider profile. “I ride for hope (that) scientific innovation will soon help our communities beat cancer forever.”

Wong said she encountered the tragic implications of cancer when her high school teacher, Kirsten Mulligan, lost her husband to the disease.

“The mission of fighting cancer didn’t feel tangible until my senior year,” Wong said in a video profile. “Every day after that, despite losing her best friend, (Mulligan) decided to show up for her students with selflessness, abundant joy and compassion.” 

Wong said Mulligan’s infectious positivity and strength made resounding waves through Austin’s Vandegrift High School. As coordinator of the school’s annual cancer fundraising and awareness events, Wong said students knew her as a source of light and joy, even throughout the hardest battle of her life.

“You never know who you’re impacting and in what way,” Mulligan said. “So just go out in the world and do good. That’s what I’ve tried to do in class.”

On Instagram, Wong and other riders continue to update their supporters daily. Wong said that around the two-week mark, the riders reached Zion National Park in Utah after biking through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. This past week, they rode north into California. 

“Going into this, I thought this was just a summer of biking, but it’s so much more than that,” Wong said. “It’s a summer of spreading hope, knowledge and charity every mile, interaction and city.”

With an average of eight hours a day spent biking, Wong said that the journey allows her to connect deeply with other teammates and the generous supporters who open their homes for the riders. 

“I love meeting new people, but everyone we interact with on this trip (is) special,” Wong said. “I’ve felt loved and cared for so well.”

Mulligan plans to fly up to Anchorage to cheer on the riders as they cross the finish line at the end of the 70-day trek. She said the trip feels like a small way to show her support for a team that means so much to her.

“I’m very, very proud of these people and the fact that they’re willing to dedicate their summer to a cause that’s bigger than them,” Mulligan said. “The (Texas 4000) will change their lives forever.”

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