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updated: 6/27/2014 1:29 PM

Moving Picture: Batavia man's bike ride helping Africa

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  • Video: Water for life

  • Justin Ahrens of Batavia gets a hug from his mom, Nancy Brenczski, of Joliet, after finishing the 15-day Wheels4Water bike ride earlier this month. The ride started in Boston and ended 1,207 miles later in Chicago. Ahrens and his team raised more than $93,000, which will provide water for life for more than 2,300 people in Lira, Uganda.

       Justin Ahrens of Batavia gets a hug from his mom, Nancy Brenczski, of Joliet, after finishing the 15-day Wheels4Water bike ride earlier this month. The ride started in Boston and ended 1,207 miles later in Chicago. Ahrens and his team raised more than $93,000, which will provide water for life for more than 2,300 people in Lira, Uganda.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Justin Ahrens of Batavia finishes the last leg of the 15 day, 1207 mile Wheels4Water ride.

       Justin Ahrens of Batavia finishes the last leg of the 15 day, 1207 mile Wheels4Water ride.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Justin Ahrens of Batavia said despite his many trips to Africa "I have never gotten over the multiple realities in this world."

      Justin Ahrens of Batavia said despite his many trips to Africa "I have never gotten over the multiple realities in this world."
    COURTESY OF JUSTIN AHRENS

  • Justin Ahrens, left, Ryan Connary and Brian MacDonald recently pedal the last few miles of their 1,207-mile journey from Boston to Chicago.

       Justin Ahrens, left, Ryan Connary and Brian MacDonald recently pedal the last few miles of their 1,207-mile journey from Boston to Chicago.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Justin Ahrens, left, Ryan Connary and Brian MacDonald dip their front tires in Lake Michigan as a ceremonial ending to their 1,207-mile ride earlier this month. They started their trip by dipping their rear tires in Boston Harbor 15 days earlier.

       Justin Ahrens, left, Ryan Connary and Brian MacDonald dip their front tires in Lake Michigan as a ceremonial ending to their 1,207-mile ride earlier this month. They started their trip by dipping their rear tires in Boston Harbor 15 days earlier.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Justin Ahrens visited Africa for the first time about seven years ago. "It changed the way I live my life," he said.

      Justin Ahrens visited Africa for the first time about seven years ago. "It changed the way I live my life," he said.
    COURTESY OF JUSTIN AHRENS

  • Justin Ahrens of Batavia, left, gets a ride from a local during a trip to Africa.

      Justin Ahrens of Batavia, left, gets a ride from a local during a trip to Africa.
    COURTESY OF JUSTIN AHRENS

  • Justin Ahrens says "you have an option for the way you live your life. It's ridiculous to live in a place like we live and not be grateful," he says.

       Justin Ahrens says "you have an option for the way you live your life. It's ridiculous to live in a place like we live and not be grateful," he says.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • A large party of family and friends met Justin Ahrens and his riding team at the Chicago Velo Campus after the Wheels4Water ride earlier this month.

       A large party of family and friends met Justin Ahrens and his riding team at the Chicago Velo Campus after the Wheels4Water ride earlier this month.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Tony Narducci, who captained the support van for the Wheels4Water ride, takes a selfie with riders Justin Ahrens, left, Brian MacDonald and Ryan Connary.

       Tony Narducci, who captained the support van for the Wheels4Water ride, takes a selfie with riders Justin Ahrens, left, Brian MacDonald and Ryan Connary.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Justin Ahrens of Batavia believes everyone can make a difference.

And when he found out how much of a difference $40 could make in a person's life in Uganda, he put his butt on the line, or more accurately, a bicycle seat, to collect as many lifesaving donations as possible. That $40 could provide water for life for one person.

Ahrens made his first trip to Africa about seven years ago.

"From the time I walked off the plane, I didn't realize it right away but I started changing," he said. "When I was walking around Kenya in the slums, there's the obvious smell and the viewable parts, but there's also something that gets on you and gets inside you and deteriorates your soul."

Coming back to his life and home was just as hard as seeing the conditions people were dealing with in Africa.

"I have never gotten over the multiple realities in this world," he said. "The reality that I was born here and not in Kenya has nothing to do with me and it's nothing I did nor is it my fault. I think our responsibility lies in what am I doing with those things that I've been fortunate enough to be a part of. I have the opportunity to make a difference."

Through a previous relationship his strategic creative firm Rule29 had with Life in Abundance International, he hooked up with friend Justin Narducci, CEO of Lifewater, a nonprofit Christian water development organization.

Ahrens and Rule29 set out to help Lifewater, founded in 1977, with its branding.

"They hadn't really cared about marketing in the past, they just wanted to do the work, they wanted to serve," he said.

He took a trip with the group to Uganda in 2013.

"I was blown away at the success rate, the efficiency and the impact that (providing water) could make," he said.

Ahrens wanted to do more than just help them professionally.

The Wheels4Water ride came about through the desire to help the first thousand people Lifewater was about to serve in the Lira region of Uganda.

"We asked what it would take to help a thousand people and they said $40,000," he said.

"We thought we could do an event that could raise awareness of Lifewater and what they're about, bring together the various networks we had and as a community raise the money and also challenge myself and try to get out of my comfort zone and have greater impact than I would in my day-to-day," he added.

After 1,207 miles on a bike over 15 days with riding partners Brian MacDonald of Wheaton and Ryan Connary of Maine -- they started by dipping their back tires in Boston Harbor and ended by putting their front tires in Lake Michigan in Chicago -- the trio had more than reached their goal. The total raised, which is still growing as late donations roll in, is more than $93,000. That will provide water for life for more than 2,300 people.

"The one thing I always want to get across is that there is so much opportunity around us to serve and that often we get caught up in life and we kind of lose our way," he said. "There's a lot of need out there and most likely you're a lot better off than you think you are. ... And you have a lot more to offer the world than you think you do."

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