Profile

  • Route: Rockies
  • Ride Year: 2020
  • Hometown: San Antonio, TX

About: ¡Hola! My name is Alexandra McConnell, but everyone calls me Ally. I am a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Neuroscience and "Iberian and Latin American Languages and Cultures", which is a long and complicated name for "Spanish." My two areas of study may seem completely opposite, but when I graduate I want to combine them to investigate language production differences in people with autism (specific, I know). In the meantime, you can find me running around with my goldendoodle, Spencer, lifeguarding at the pool on campus or conducting electrophysiology research in an epilepsy lab in the Center for Learning and Memory at UT. If you have ever had a conversation with me for more than 10 minutes, you will have probably heard me mention a summer camp I have worked at since I was 14 years old. It is not like any camp though, it is an amazing camp for people with disabilities. This camp has sparked my passion for advocating for dignity and respect for the special needs community and helped me discover my future career path in neuroscience research.

Why I Ride

If you have read the "About Me" section you read about the camp I work at and how special it is. However, because it is such a special place, our camp community knows the pain of loss all too well. My "Why I Ride" starts back during my senior year of high school, but leads to a series of three events this past summer that pushed me to want to ride 4500+ miles to Alaska.

My high school was amazing because there was a large presence of campers and camp staff that attended. Additionally, I was also very involved with the Life Skills class (the classroom for my friends with special needs) and the Special Olympics teams. During that time, a dear friend at school and camper, Rachel, was diagnosed with leukemia years after her initial diagnosis and remission. At the time, it didn't hit me that she was really sick because I was busy preparing for college and about to leave. However, it hit my fellow staff and dear friend, Sara, really hard. In fact, when it was Sara’s turn to graduate, she chose a college close to home in order to become Rachel's care-giver. After a few years of battling, I received a call from Sara last April saying Rachel was being moved to hospice and they were going to have a party for her. I planned to make the two-hour drive the next week, but a few days later I was informed Rachel wasn't going to make it until the party and I should try to come home sooner. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get there fast enough and personally say goodbye.

A couple of months later, June 2018, my grandpa was diagnosed with throat cancer. My grandpa is the glue to our family. When anything happens, good or bad, we look to him for guidance. His stoic and calm nature probably comes from spending thirty years in the Army as a chaplain. When my brother called me to tell me about my Papa, I was so confused because this man has never smoked or used tobacco or had more than a glass of wine with dinner. Thankfully, a few weeks later when they went into surgery they were able to remove it all and he was even well enough to conduct my mom's wedding to my stepdad this past winter.

The third event happened in July 2018. I was finally able to go back to the summer camp after a gruesome 6-week biochemistry summer course. My first week back out, my best friend, Ivalis, was paired one-on-one with a camper who I had known for a couple of years. He didn't have cancer, but he had another genetic disease I relate to cancer because people with this diagnosis develop normally until slowly their body becomes their enemy leading to death far too young. These two were the perfect pair that week. They walked around with their cowboy hats and crocs and even made t-shirts with each other's faces on them (I got one and wore it around, too). We said goodbye to our campers on Friday, and on Tuesday we got a call that our friend had left us here on Earth to run around his heavenly home, freely and without pain.

After each of these moments, I remember an unusual feeling of numbness that took over my body. This feeling gradually turned to anger and then a passion of having to do something, anything. This passion led me to realized I needed to move my body for the people who no longer can. Alas! My journey to bike to Alaska began.

While I begin riding for Rachel, Sara, Papa, Ivalis and Clay, I want to ride for anyone else who has a story, which is essentially every one of you that has clicked my profile. I welcome you to email me (alexandragmcconnell@gmail.com) with stories of how I can ride for you.

To Alaska and Back,
Ally