Biking the Rockies to bless ReIGNITE Hope
In 2018 TJ Sullivan was on Google, searching for welding classes. He had been particularly fascinated with shipping container homes for several years, and knew he needed to learn welding in order to build one. Little did he know this search would take him biking in the Rockies to help a non-profit program called ReIGNITE Hope just two years later. A connection like this could only be described by some as a “divine appointment”, especially by those at ReIGNITE Hope.
During that time TJ was a millennial in his twenties, living the good life with his long-time girlfriend in the LA area. He had moved from Massachusetts, and was seeing success in two web design companies he had built from the ground up: Civilized Savage and LA Web Design. He felt it was time to take a break and finally pursue his goal of learning how to weld. While researching the web, TJ came across ReIGNITE Hope. He read that the program was founded specifically to teach welding to those who needed a second chance at life. Many of the students were formerly incarcerated, drug-addicted, gang-affiliated – those who had gone down some bad paths and wanted to change the trajectory of their lives.
Although TJ didn’t fit the student profile, he felt compelled to give a call. He spoke with the administrator of the program, Manny Garcia. TJ was candid in his conversation, letting him know he was not in need of a second chance but was intrigued with ReIGNITE Hope’s educational design and mission. After some discussion, they agreed TJ would attend class in the fall of 2018. In exchange he would help in any way needed during the class as well as with the program’s website.
Jimmy Brown - One of ReIGNITE Hope's beloved instructors
While at ReIGNITE Hope, TJ got to know the staff and many of the volunteers. One of his favorite people was Jimmy Brown, a teacher at the program. TJ found Jimmy to be “the spark” at ReIGNITE Hope, encouraging every student whenever needed. Jimmy had shared his life story during one of the classes. In 1997 Jimmy’s twin brother was shot and killed in gang violence; soon after, one of Jimmy’s close friends died in his arms. After being shot three times himself, he knew it was time to turn his life around.
Following up on a suggestion of a friend who had been to a career fair, Jimmy found himself at the doorstep of ReIGNITE Hope. He knew he was in the right place as soon as he met the founder and head teacher of the program, Pastor Steve Bunyard. Steve taught Jimmy not only how to weld but how to live life better. Through Steve’s gentle and patient spirit, Jimmy learned how to better manage his temper and how to be humble. Jimmy stayed on with Pastor Steve for several years after being trained at ReIGNITE Hope, and became one of the program’s most beloved instructors.
Mr. Wisdom, "Big Jim" Landino, another beloved instructor with two students
TJ also met another teacher in the program “Big Jim” Landino whom he calls “Mr. Wisdom”. They got to know each other by cutting pipe for the students to use during class. Having been a welder for most of his life, Big Jim believes his career was all for the purpose of being used by God at ReIGNITE Hope. Both Jimmy and Big Jim would encourage those in the program, saying, “If you can tackle this, you can tackle anything in life.”
TJ also enjoyed his time learning with his fellow students. He felt a “great vibe” during class, and they all had fun together. After four months of training, TJ successfully completed the program, and received certifications in MIG and Flux Core welding. Upon graduating, TJ went back to focusing his time at his web design companies. However, the program left a huge impact on his life. Any time the occasion arose, TJ would sing the praises of the program and share his personal experiences there.
TJ and Jim ready to ride the Rockies with friend, Alec, for support
TJ was still in touch with good friends from high school, Jim Forrey and Alec Bewkes. Nine years prior, TJ and Jim had spent close to four months bicycling across the country, starting in San Francisco and finishing in Virginia Beach. To make it a more meaningful experience, they decided to get sponsors to pledge monies for ALS research and care. TJ’s dad had passed away from ALS close to two years before their trip. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, TJ and Jim had raised over $30,000 for ALS while on their cycling adventure.
Unfortunately, they ran into some mechanical problems with their bikes in Utah right before the Rockies. They ended up having to bike north to Grand Junction, and then needed to take a bus to Denver. TJ and Jim went on to complete the cross-country ride, but they always regretted missing the Rockies. They promised each other they would attempt this part of their trip in the future. However, after they returned home, TJ’s bike had been stolen so they put the second trip on the back burner, waiting for an opportune time.
That time came just this past summer when TJ & Jim agreed they would try once again to complete their ride through the Rockies. Jim had been living in Colorado working as a corporate pilot so logistics were in their favor. They enlisted the help of their friend Alec Bewkes who resided near TJ, working on his career as a comedian. Alec agreed to drive his car with their food and camping equipment. This would relieve them of carrying almost 40 lbs that they had on their bikes for the cross-country trip nine years prior. They discussed the idea of raising monies for a charity again.
After TJ told Jim about ReIGNITE Hope, they both knew this was the charity they would support. To sweeten the deal, TJ did a company match up to $1,000. They mainly used Instagram to spread their message. While fundraising, both TJ and Jim got great feedback on the program. Many were surprised that there was even such a program available. TJ could attest to the uniqueness of the program. He had seen the lives of his classmates transformed through the training and job placement at ReIGNITE Hope. He is convinced that graduates enjoy a better standard of living, as well as a sense of pride and feeling of accomplishment.
TJ and Jim at the 11,000 feet summit, Monarch Pass
On Wednesday August 20, TJ and Alec packed up a van with supplies, and drove from Los Angeles to Cortez Colorado. They met up with Jim in Dolores the next day where they camped overnight. They woke up early the next morning, and TJ and Jim started the first leg of the journey to Cayton Campground in Rico.
That first day of riding was the hardest for TJ. Although they only rode 43 miles, he was still adjusting to the change in altitude - from sea level to about 7,000 feet. Thankfully, they had Alec to assist them this time around. Alec would drive his car ahead to the place they had agreed to stop for lunch, then to where they would have dinner and sleep for the night. He also shopped for fresh food whenever needed.
The trip overall proceeded fairly smoothly. In total TJ and Jim cycled 370 miles over six days. All three were on a strict timetable as they needed to return to work by the following Monday. As they did not want to bike in the dark, TJ and Jim limited their cycling time to no more than eight hours each day. The longest they rode in one day was 102 miles, and they covered over 22,000 feet of total climbing throughout the trip, the highest altitude being 11,000.
TJ said that Day 5 from to Tomichi to Cotopaxi was their most intense due to the amount of climbing and the number of curvy roads which did not provide good shoulders for cyclists to ride. Yet it was also TJ’s most exhilarating moment of the trip as he reached the summit at Monarch Pass. He emailed Pastor Steve at ReIGNITE Hope to say they made it to the top.
Jim's favourite spot - road intoTelluride
As soon as they finished taking a photo of the altitude sign, the two found themselves caught in a hailstorm. Still the ride down was great, especially after all the climbing. Jim’s favorite day of riding was their leg to the Dallas Divide at Telluride. Although it was some of the hardest riding he’s ever done, the stunning mountain views made it well worth the struggle. He also now has a deeper appreciation of being able to call a beautiful place like Colorado home.
Trip wasn't easy...one of Jim's four flat tires
Their last day was definitely their hardest - Jim’s bike got four flat tires. Alec had already left with the car to go ahead to Denver so they were without assistance. TJ gave Jim his extra inner tube. However, then TJ’s bike got a flat tire; he had to ride the last eight miles with a semi-functioning bike. Still after seven hours and 82 miles of cycling that last day, they successfully completed the part of the journey they were unable to finish in 2011.
Throughout the ride TJ saw signs suggesting that everything was “meant to happen this way”. The wildfires that had plagued Colorado last summer stayed north of them, and they never had problems with their breathing from the smoke. TJ also spotted many welding shops on their excursion, continuously reminding him of his time at ReIGNITE Hope and the monies being raised to support new students. Fated or divinely appointed, all those involved with TJ and his life since 2011 are thankful to have participated in all the good that was accomplished.