How a 1,300-mile bike ride for a mission led to the creation of a nonprofit to support widows

July 2, 2020, is a date that the Shipley family will never forget.

On that day, 39-year-old Andrew “Drew” Shipley, of Cape Coral, Fla., took his last breath while on vacation to visit his family in Kokomo, Ind. He died of undiagnosed leukemia that led to bleeding in the brain.

Without life insurance, Drew’s unexpected passing left his wife and three children in a vulnerable position. His siblings, Adam Shipley, Summer Avey, and Nate Shipley were left asking the question, “What can we do to support our sister-in-law, Jessie, and her daughters?”

The night before the funeral, Drew’s younger brother, Nate, a 2011 Grace College graduate, phoned his good friend Mason Geiger, a biking/adventure extraordinaire.

“I’ve got this crazy idea,” he said. “What do you think of it?” 

Nate went on to pitch the idea of biking from Kokomo to Cape Coral—a whopping 1,300 miles—over four days without stopping. Geiger needed to think about it, but it wasn’t long before he gave Nate a thumbs up.

The pair started planning the course, recruiting a team of six riders, and mobilizing countless fundraisers and supporters—a team that included a number of Grace alumni.

“I’m so grateful for my team who supported me logistically and financially,” Nate says.

The Shipley’s community rallied around them and demonstrated their support in a myriad of ways. A Winona Lake, faith-based riding group, 2nd Mile Adventures, let the team use its van with a six-bike hitch on the back. A number of companies joined the effort as corporate sponsors, and some supporters even rode alongside the team for portions of the journey.

The team began the Andrew Shipley Memorial Ride at midnight on October 10. As the ride went on, each rider would take a turn logging 50 miles at a time. For some of them, it was their first time tackling a ride of such intensity.

“I’m a mountain biker, not a road biker,” says Nate, whose first 50-mile day of training was only two days prior to the memorial ride. “It was only by God’s strength that I was able to complete 195 total miles in four days.”

Riders in the Andrew Shipley Memorial Ride pose with Shipley's wife and two daughters.

As expected, the four-day journey was not a “ride” in the park.

“There were definitely obstacles along the way,” Nate says. “We had dogs chase after us at one point; owls dove down to get one rider’s helmet at another time, and we saw a fox, a dead bear, and a bobcat along the way. It was definitely an adventure.”
While the ride had its challenges, Nate and the gang say there were moments they will never forget when they felt “God’s presence”—and Drew’s presence—which gave them a renewed sense of energy.

The most impactful portion of the ride was the final 30 miles. Adam, Nate’s older brother who hadn’t ridden 30 miles since his freshman year of college, joined the gang, and all seven of them finished together.

In the final mile of the ride, the crew signed with their hands ‘I love you,’ imitating one of the last photos taken of Drew holding up the ‘I love you’ sign to his wife. 

“We see that picture as a final sign of Drew, telling all of us that he loves us,” Nate says. “In that final mile or two, we were all saying, ‘We love you, Drew!’ It was very emotional, and there were lots of tears. That final ride was just amazing.”

Drew Shipley's family and friends copy the "I love you" sign he sent his wife before passing.

As the Shipley family works toward its $40,000 goal to help Drew’s family, it’s extending its mission to support widows and families around the world, too.

Before Drew’s passing, Nate recalls Adam telling him that “God had burdened him to look out for widows.” The Andrew Shipley Memorial Ride was an emotional experience for family and friends.

Seeing new meaning in these words now, the family is launching a nonprofit called WOW 127, which stands for Watching Out for Widows and alludes to a Biblical passage from James 1:27, instructing Christ-followers “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”

Nate says two of his aunts are widows, as well, and he sees a huge need for the Christian community, as a whole, to step up services in this area.

“We want to help churches do a better job looking after widows,” Nate says. “The vision is to help churches start a ministry for widows and then to empower them to pay it forward to another church.”

Learn More

To support Drew Shipley’s family, click here. To watch live footage of the journey, meet the riders, and learn more about the Andrew Shipley Memorial Ride, click here.

For more information about WOW 127, email [email protected].
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