8-year-old raising awareness
Starting Monday at the Tennessee state line, C.J. began crossing North Carolina on his bicycle to raise money and awareness for the Samaritan's Purse Children's Heart Project.
It's an ambitious goal, but the freckle-faced second-grader says he has no fear.
"God's going to take care of me," C.J. said.
He and his crew arrived Tuesday afternoon at the Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, unfazed by a brief misdirection that caused them to pedal a few extra miles beyond what they intended.
By the end of the ride, C.J. hopes to have raised at least $8,800 for the Children's Heart Project, which helps provide lifesaving heart surgeries for children with limited access to surgical care.
The organization provides funding for children in countries such as Mongolia, Bolivia, Honduras and Uganda to fly with a parent and an interpreter to receive free surgery donated by hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, said Cindy Bonsall, director of the Children's Heart Project.
Since the program's start in 1997, approximately 940 children have benefitted from the surgeries, she said.
The program requires about $2,200 per surgery, so C.J's goal should provide for four children.
"These children would not survive to adulthood ... so what he's done is a pretty incredible thing," Bonsall said.
C.J. is getting pretty good at doing incredible things.
The homeschooled student said he was inspired by a song titled "Do Everything," by contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman. The song's lyrics encourage people to live every part of their lives to the glory of God.
From the back of the family car as the song played, C.J. asked his mother, "Does that mean I can ride my bike for Jesus?" Never expecting what would follow, she said of course.
Shortly after the exchange in the car, C.J. said he saw a photo from missionaries at his church that showed Kenyans riding their bicycles to a medical clinic. He learned that some have to travel as far as 30 miles on bike or foot to receive care.
"Then I said, OK, I want to ride my bike for them," C.J. said.
In his first 30-mile charity ride, C.J. raised almost $5,000 to build a new medical clinic in the Kenyan village. And from there he just couldn't stop.
He has since completed a fundraiser ride for the Ronald McDonald House and a 315-mile ride along the entire North Carolina coastline for a Samaritan's Purse water project, he said.
His current ride -- which he expects to complete at Emerald Isle in only 12 days -- is his most ambitious yet at roughly 360 miles.
"The most fun part is going up the mountain when you can barely breathe," C.J. said shortly after his arrival Tuesday in Boone, adding that he enjoyed looking across the handlebars of his road bike at the peaks.
C.J. said with a grin Tuesday that he had reached his fastest speed ever -- 34 mph -- earlier that day.
By Thursday afternoon, C.J. had crossed into Yadkin County on his way east, according to progress updates at Facebook.com/CJs.Rides.For.A.Reason.
His blue jersey proudly states that he is a member of "Team SP," which encourages people participating in athletic events to raise money for Samaritan's Purse programs. Team SP Director Darren Mullenix said C.J. is by far the youngest participant in the program.
"To take on the whole state, there's not many people who are crazy enough to take that on, much less an 8-year-old," Mullenix said.
Luckily, C.J. isn't completely alone. He rides alongside -- or more often leading -- his father, Craig Burford, and family friend Bernie Molenda.
"He really is an awesome rider," Molenda said. "He's wearing his dad and I out. Sometimes I forget he's only 8 years old."
C.J.'s mother, Katie Burford, planned the entire route, and crept behind the riders in a van decorated for the ride, toting 4-year-old Corban Burford along, too.
Just two days into the journey Tuesday, C.J. was optimistic about the rest of the grueling trip.
"I'm looking for good weather," he said. "I pray to God that I can make it, and I pray that he'll take care of me."