Riding the Organ Trail: A family faces tragedy by building a tradition of hope and giving

Organ Trail
Illustrations by Jason Norman of

Organ Trail bike ride

Starting Point: 390 Herky St., North Liberty — Sat., May 14 at 10 a.m., $40

On Saturday, May 14, beginning at 10 a.m. in North Liberty, Pedal for Life will host its second annual Organ Trail bike ride. Registration is $40. The event will have all the standard trappings of a cycling event: scenic routes, comfort stations with water, trail mix and fruit. At home base, there will be live music from Iowa City band Extra Credit Project, barbecue and a beer tent from Cedar Rapids’ soon-to-open Iowa Brewing Company. But what sets this ride apart from others is the reason it’s being hosted.

The Organ Trail is one of several annual cycling events hosted by Pedal for Life with the express purpose of raising awareness for organ donation. Pedal for Life was founded in 2014 by Dave Full, owner of Planet X in Cedar Rapids and a cycling enthusiast. The reason it was founded, though, goes back to Feb. 24, 2013. On that day, Full and his wife Jan received a phone call from their niece and nephew, Tiffany and Bruce Brockway: Their son Garrett was being airlifted from Burlington to Iowa City — would they please be at the hospital for his arrival?

“Cycling is just like being an organ donor. There aren’t any prerequisites; all it takes is an open attitude and a willingness to say yes.” — Bruce Brockway

“Dave and Jan were the first people we thought of,” says Bruce Brockway. “We weren’t thinking very clearly at the time, but we knew we wanted family there.”

The couple immediately drove to the hospital and were by Tiffany and Bruce’s side when they heard the news that Garrett would not survive his injuries. Despite being wracked with grief, the couple say they didn’t think twice when asked if they were willing to donate his organs, corneas and tissues.

organ-trail-2“Obviously we’d never discussed this sort of thing with Garrett — it’s just not a conversation you have with a ten year old — but there was no doubt in our hearts that it was what he would have wanted,” Brockway says. “Organ donation fit his spirit and personality. He was the kind of kid that always made sure that other people were involved, and if people were being picked on, he would stand up for them. That’s just the kind of kid he was. So organ donation fit him to a T.”

“I’d never given organ donation much thought before seeing my niece and nephew go through this,” says Full. “But seeing the impact of Garrett’s donation — how one little 10 year old boy saved the lives of five people, and with his cornea and tissue donation, impacted the lives of 125 people in 33 different states and Canada — seeing how he lived on in that way made me want to help other people understand what an impact they can have.”

“So in 2014,” he continues, “me and four of my friends decided we’d ride our bikes from Washington D.C. to Iowa City to help raise awareness for this cause. And the average age between us was old and older! But we did it — us old farts rode 1,000 miles in 10 days. And last year we road from Kinnick Stadium to New Orleans in 12 days and ended up [there] just in time for the Donate Life Conference. And that year, Bruce rode with us.”

“I went because I wanted to educate people misinformed about organ donation,” adds Brockway. “In my experience, there are two types of people who are not organ donors. The first simply want nothing to do with it, and with those people, I don’t push. But the second have false impressions, and almost always about the same two things. The first: ‘It goes against my religion.’ Well it does not. Organ donation is an act of charity, and there is no world religion that is against acts of charity. The second myth is that doctors won’t try as hard to save your life. I’ll tell you — as parents who saw their son in the most difficult of circumstances, those doctors did everything in their power to save our son.”

“There’s a third type,” adds Full. “When we were in Memphis, the director of the children’s hospital was not a registered donor! And it wasn’t for any specific reason. She’d just let it get away from her, which happens more than you would believe. But she registered right there on the spot — and that’s why we host these events.”

Pitching a scenic bike ride that comes with beer, food and music on a Saturday morning is an easy sell to cycling enthusiasts — the fact that it’s for a worthy cause is just icing on the cake. But what about the kind of person whose favorite weekend activity is a post-brunch nap?

Brockway chuckles at my concern and replies, “I get that. Last year when I decided to ride with Uncle Dave I had plenty of hesitation. I wasn’t a cyclist — I didn’t even own a bike. But I started small — first 5 miles, then 10 — and by [the] next year I’d dropped 39 pounds and ended up pedaling 3900 miles. Trust me: If I can do that, you can do 10 miles. Cycling is just like being an organ donor. There aren’t any prerequisites; all it takes is an open attitude and a willingness to say yes.”

Luke Benson hasn’t been on a bike ride for over a decade. If he can do this, you can do this. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 198.

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