Big Adventure Down Under

Rooney (foreground) and Ziegler in South Island, New Zealand.
Rooney (foreground) and Ziegler in South Island, New Zealand.

Ask JOE ROONEY ’08 why he decided to bike the length of Australia and New Zealand, and his short answer is, “I’m just a psycho.” But press him a little, and Rooney’s motivation becomes clear: a thirst for adventure, a desire to test himself, and the chance to raise money and awareness for a great cause. In Steve Ziegler ’08, a college buddy and fellow endurance racer, Rooney found a willing partner. Together, they embarked last summer on “The Road 2 Oz.”

That’s the name Rooney and Ziegler gave their “mission,” a roughly 3,000-mile bike trek that took them from MacKay to Melbourne along Australia’s east coast, and then along the spine of New Zealand, from Dunedin to Auckland. The distance offered the two New Jersey English teachers (Rooney at a high school in Monroe Township, Ziegler at a middle school in Hamilton) just enough time to complete the journey during summer break. It also gave them a suitably daunting challenge to pitch to donors, from whom they raised nearly $6,000; everything beyond their minimal travel costs went to Mama Mare, a breast cancer charity.

Rooney first hooked up with Mama Mare before his 2011 cross-country bike ride from Spring Lake, New Jersey, to San Diego. Ultimately, Ziegler didn’t make that trip, but with several triathlons and marathons on his résumé, he had experience testing both his body and his will. Still, neither was prepared for what they encountered Down Under: Rooney admits they did only preliminary research into their route, which threw them mountains, stiff head winds, and occasional rain and hail. Oh, and don’t forget the road kill. Says Rooney, “There were a lot of dead kangaroos on the side of the road.”

New Zealand brought different challenges—it snowed in the country—but early coverage from a TV crew brought them national attention. By trip’s end, they were regularly accepting donations and offers of a place to sleep from locals who had seen them on the news.

Physically, the journey took its toll; emotionally, both men found inspiration in their struggle. “Battling adversity is something people who go through cancer treatments do every day,” Ziegler says. “We battled a lot of adversity, but the whole time, we were thinking how the stuff those people have to go through is so much harder than what we’re going through right now.”

As of December, Ziegler said he had no plans for another such trip, but wouldn’t rule it out.

“But I don’t know what Joe’s thinking,” he says. It’s early, but Rooney has an idea. “Maybe the running of the bulls,” he says. “But I need time to think of a trip that would be worthy of destroying my body again.”

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