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Back To On Campus Home June 2007 Volume 33, Issue 8 Home


Mechanical engineer to bicycle across America for organ donation awareness

Ellen Spiro portrait Rick Neptune at the start of a 70-mile training ride in Austin with spouse Denise Neptune and fellow Team Donate Life member Dwight Morejohn.

Last fall, Rick and Denise Neptune rode their tandem bike for 12 hours straight in northern Texas for the fun of it, racking up 238 miles to win their division in the North American Ultra Cycling Championship. Rick Neptune now has a bigger cycling goal as he begins bicycling that many miles a week to train for a June race considered one of the world’s most challenging athletic events.

Instead of emphasizing the clock in June, this expert on lower-limb disabilities will join seven team members to give others the gift of time.

Each member of Team Donate Life-Grace Valley will take turns at 15-minute, solo sprints in the non-stop Race Across America that they’ll begin June 12 to raise funds and awareness about organ donations.

“On average, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant,” said Neptune. “This race is a great opportunity to give somebody a second chance at life.”

The associate professor of mechanical engineering and team members from the church he formerly attended in Davis, Calif., hope to increase the number of Americans signed up to donate their organs to 40 million. The total number of patients awaiting organ transplants is more than 83,000, and more than one-third are expected to die before a donor is found. That tragedy also explains why the team’s fundraising will help find ways to prevent donated organs from being rejected when they aren’t a perfect match for a person.

“There’s a lot of ongoing research to improve the biocompatibility of tissues for transplants,” Neptune said.

He noted that the best match for a diseased kidney or other organ is still another human organ. His commitment to cycling has also brought accolades, including winning the 1999 California Master Sprint State.

The nearly week-long race from Oceanside, Calif., to Atlantic City, N.J. will require climbing more than 10,000 feet to cross the Continental Divide, and more than 108,000 feet during the course of the race. That climb through cool Rocky Mountain air will come after traveling through warmer Arizona, a combination that has led to bronchitis for previous race participants.

The Grace Valley riders will sleep a few hours at a time in a recreational vehicle trailing behind the pack of five who will be bicycling at any given time during the continuous race.

“Being able to see so many regions of the United States from a bicycle will be amazing,” Neptune said, “and knowing that we’ll be giving other people the chance to have more adventures of their own will make it all the more special.”

Learn more about Team Donate Life.