Special Education Sophomore Mike Rotter is gearing up for his second summer with the Illini 4000 group. This year, his 4000 mile ride is dedicated to his first and favorite college professor: Dr. David Zola.
The Illini 4000 is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting the American cancer experience through The Portraits Project, raising funds for cancer research and patient support services, as well as spreading awareness for the fight against cancer through their annual cross-country bike rides each summer.
After biking with the 2018 summer team and serving as a member of the fundrasing committee this school year, Rotter was selected as a ride leader for the 2019 summer team. He'll spend this summer ensuring the trip goes smoothly and is full of meaningful interactions with communities across the states, collecting interviews and stories for the Portraits Project.
While the bike ride itself is a fun way to spend the summer, Rotter says he is reminded every day that they are riding for a cause. This year, that daily reminder comes from his time with Dr. Zola.
"He loved teaching all of his students and he made learning fun in any way he could. In addition to letting me work as his TA, we would get coffee together and he'd help me with my career ambitions and try to convince me to take his job when he retired."
This past September Rotter was told from other faculty members about Dr. Zola's cancer diagnoses and passing. Rotter says he saw so many other people at the visitation and funeral that had been positively affected by their time with him.
"Zola did so much for the community and now I want to do this for him."
While riding, Rotter's favorite things to do include: collecting license plates from the side of the road, petting llamas, eating everybody's leftover PB&Js, and listening to "Pump Up the Jam" on repeat for 8 hours straight. You can learn more about the journey he will make here.