Cyclist with local ties raises funds for worthy causes

Cyclist Jasmine Reese and her five-year-old traveling companion, Fiji, were in East Texas in early May raising awareness for Alzheimers.

For many, the dream of striking out on an endless road-trip is something flirted with when life gets too demanding, but Jasmine Reese is living out that dream as she travels cross-country on a bicycle with her beloved dog Fiji at her side.

“If somebody had told me I would do something like this, I'd say 'no way!' ” the 27-year-old laughed.

Born in nearby Palestine, raised in Los Angeles and educated in New York and Missouri, Reese launched her second bicycle trip from Indianapolis on March 1.

It's the first leg of a tour that will take the pair across the country into Canada, down along the East Coast before traveling internationally over a six-year period.

“My goal is to travel around the world with Fiji,” she said.

Her route through East Texas has included stops in Texarkana, Kilgore, Jacksonville and Palestine.

Initially, her plan was to take another route to Austin, but following her volunteer work with the Alzheimer's Alliance of Texarkana, she decided instead to swing through the Pineywoods to visit her grandmother, Rusk resident Arlene Waggoner.

“She keeps forgetting where I am, and why she's coming to see me (and) I have to keep repeating the information,” Reese posted on her Facebook page, “Fijapaw” (short for Fiji and Jasmine Pedal Around the World). “I am so happy I get to spend some moments with her.”

Reese has devoted this leg of her ride to raising funds for the Texarkana organization in honor of her grandmother and her mother, who was Waggoner's caregiver as she battled with memory issues.

“My mom took care of my grandmother for almost two years, and it took a heavy toll on her health. It's not easy for caregivers,” she said.

Places like The Alzheimer's Alliance “is a wonderful organization that allows caregivers to bring their grandparents, moms and dads with dementia to the facility and play games, listen to live music, eat, socialize and be merry while the caregiver gets a whole day to themselves – away from the difficult responsibility,” she said.

The pair's first trek was in 2013, a learning experience for both as they traveled from New York to San Diego, Reese admitted.

There were the expected challenges of learning to travel with a dog – Fiji is a boxer-greyhound mix, with a few other breeds thrown in, so she tends to be on the high-energy side – along with safety issues and finances.

An investment in a metal bar that attaches to the bike frame that Fiji's leash can be clipped onto allows her to run alongside her owner. Otherwise, Fiji travels inside the yellow CycleTote trailer hitched to the back of Reese's Kona Sutra bicycle.

She said she takes all safety precautions when traveling, but is thrilled to discover the kindness of strangers they've met along the way on these trips.

“I've had so many great experiences going across the county, and we've met all these wonderful people whom I've learned so much from,” she said. “I've met people who were just so kind, who were willing to trust a stranger and invite her into their homes with a dog.”

After leaving Jacksonville, Reese went to the city of her birth, where – after hearing of her plans to visit – an official with the City of Palestine arranged room and board for the pair at Lakeview Camp, where Reese volunteered to help however needed.

“Eating my dinner in the cafeteria: green beans, chicken lasagna, coleslaw, macaroni salad, biscuit and a German chocolate cake w/ heath bar topping. Wow, I am being spoiled here at Lakeview,” reads a post from her Facebook page.

As much as her trip is about seeing the country, it's also about giving back to the communities who've shown love and generosity to her and Fiji.

“I look up non-profits along the way so I can volunteer with them,” she said.

In fact, in Texarkana, she was able to combine her volunteerism with her love of violin, which is accompanying the duo on this trip.

At a “day out” event hosted by Texarkana's Alzheimer's Alliance, Reese pulled out her violin and began playing. Soon she noticed a patient dancing happily to the music.

“She was moving pretty fast, so I just began playing faster to keep up with her,” Reese laughed.

Follow the journey of Jasmine Reese and Fiji on the “Fijipaw” page on Facebook, or visit her blog at www.fijapaw.com.

Those interested in sending donations to the Alzheimer's Alliance of Texarkana, the organization Reese is supporting, may mail them to 100 Memory Lane, Texarkana, TX 75503 or call 903-223-8021 to learn more.

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