Team ZOE International entered the Race Across America bicycle race on June 17 with thousands of training miles behind them. They expected grueling days, weather challenges and money to be raised toward the goal of rescuing children from human trafficking.
But it’s impossible to prepare for the emotions that churn with every pump of the pedals.
“I’d describe it as a mountaintop experience – definitely next-level emotionally,” said first-time ZOE cyclist Kevin Quinter, who is a detective in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania and works on an anti-trafficking task force in eastern Pennsylvania.
The emotions came in waves as the team rode to a second-place finish in Annapolis, Maryland. On the third day of the seven-day relay ride from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis that concluded last Friday, June 23, rider Jeff Conaway from Littleton, Colorado, crashed on a descent through a remote area of the Rocky Mountains near Trinidad, Colorado.
“When we came around the corner, I thought for sure there’s a 50% chance he was not alive,” said Quinter, who was in the trail van with two other riders.
Conaway broke his collar bone, scapula, and had head injuries, but fortunately he is now recovering from his home in Colorado with an excellent prognosis. But the race had to continue for the other seven riders. Quinter jumped on his bike while Conaway, now awake, was still unstable and the ambulance had not reached them.
Coming off their Rocky Mountain low, the team’s emotions ran high. Each rider had to take on some of the miles that Conaway would have ridden.
“Even though we had Jeff go down in Colorado, it really brought the team even closer together,” said Brad Ortenzi, the team’s general manager and the Eastern USA Regional Director for ZOE.
The purpose of the race kept the team motivated as well. They exceeded their goal of raising $500,000 and are currently at $550,000. In 2019, Team ZOE raised $180,000, and in 2021 they raised $380,000.
“There’s more awareness of child trafficking and ZOE’s efforts to fight it with each year; there’s more of a momentum behind it,” Ortenzi said. “And a large percentage of what we’re doing comes from two counties within Pennsylvania. The race has brought a lot of exposure to ZOE and what we’re doing.”
ZOE (gozoe.org) prevents child trafficking and rescues and restores children out of trafficking in the U.S., Thailand, Mexico, Australia, and Japan. The organization was founded in 2003 by Mike and Carol Hart.
Ortenzi, a retired detective and online child exploitation investigator, is ZOE’s coordinator with task forces in Berks and Lancaster counties. He oversees restorative efforts and other needs for those rescued from trafficking.
Awareness for ZOE grew during the race on social media, which included livestreaming on Facebook. Quinter and his fellow riders were motivated by what they saw happening on social media.
“We had so much buzz on social media about ZOE and what they are doing and success stories and how they’re rescuing kids out of this,” Quinter said. “I knew it would be big, but that was huge. And the number of people who followed us, who were praying for us, who were encouraging us – that was big. It was very emotional.”
The emotions ran so high, and minds ran so busy thinking about the next day, that the four who were not riding and were on the team bus struggled to sleep. They drove ahead to the next spot, sometimes on bumpy roads, to change over 12 hours later.
“I would have never expected to not sleep,” Quinter said. “If we got three hours a night, riders and crew, people were saying, ‘I got two full straight hours,’ and they were excited. That added to some of the emotion, emotional response that we had.
“But it was big, way bigger than us. And just to see God working through it was crazy.”
To schedule an interview with Brad Ortenzi or Kevin Quinter, email Clem Boyd, Director of Public Relations, at email@example.com or text or call him at (724) 930-4003. For more information about team ZOE, visit ZOERAAM.com and to learn about ZOE International, visit gozoe.org.