Twice a week, Scott Erker runs up and down the stadium steps at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. He lifts weights, too, and cycles for miles four days each week.
Erker, a Shands at UF catering coordinator and UF doctoral student in anthropology, is training for a 100-mile bike ride from Boston to Hyannis Port, Mass., on May 30. He’s cycled for 100 miles before — centuries, as they’re called in bikespeak — but he hopes to get his best time this year. And more importantly, he’s hoping to raise money for Best Buddies, an organization that helps his 15-year-old stepson, Jonathan.
The Best Buddies program pairs children and adults who have intellectual disabilities with volunteers, usually students in high school or college. The new friends spend time together each week.
Jonathan, who has Down syndrome and was born with a neurological defect called hydrocephalus, has a UF buddy also named Jonathan, Erker says.
“He loves it and it’s great for him to bond with someone outside the family,” Erker said. “It’s a great program and that’s why I wanted to raise money for it. It’s helping Jonathan and other kids like him.”
Ensuring that children with special needs get enough opportunities to socialize outside of school with friends or other people closer to his own age can sometimes be difficult, Erker says. That’s one of the reasons he feels the Best Buddies program is so important.
“We’re hoping that whatever his potential is he will reach it,” Erker said. “We don’t want to hold him back in any way, especially socializing with other people.”
So far, Erker has raised $2,600 and he hopes to raise more by the May 30 race, officially titled the Best Buddies Challenge.