CHESTERTON — For Purdue University junior Greg Bandy, his cross-country cycling trek is a chance of a lifetime to raise disability awareness.

“It’s an experience I’ll never get to do again,” Bandy said.

Bandy, 20, a biological engineering/pre-med student, was one of 38 cyclists from the Ability Experience’s Journey of Hope who stopped on Friday to pay a friendship visit with Chasing Dreams families of Northwest Indiana.

The event, held west of the Indiana Dunes State Park pavilion, included participants eating lunch on picnic tables and blankets, building sand castles, swimming in Lake Michigan and making new friends.

The purpose of the 3,700 mile ride, which began in San Francisco and ends Aug. 13 in Washington D.C., is to raise money and awareness for the disabled, Bandy said.

“The focus of the ride is to break through limitations and focus on ability over disability. It’s all about what I can do and not what I can’t do,” Bandy said.

Bandy chatted while eating sandwiches with his parents, Maria and Steven Bandy, who drove from their Indianapolis home to see him.

This friendship visit at the park marks the fourth year for the cyclists, Ian Rubin said.

Rubin, a Valparaiso businessman, was part of the Journey of Hope program in 1991.

Rubin agreed to sponsor the event at the park after meeting up with Denise Babjak at the Popcorn Festival in Valparaiso six years ago.

Babjak is founder of Chasing Dreams, a 4-year-old organization and center initially designed to provide support and services to children with Down syndrome.

This past year the group has expanded to provide support and services to area children with special needs.

In addition, the group now has an office in Merrillville at 8380 Louisiana St., Babjak said.

There are now some 300, ranging from newborn to age 50, who are assisted by Chasing Dreams.

Babjak founded Chasing Dreams because of lack of support and services in the area after her daughter, Lainy Babjak, now 7, was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome.

She is pleased that the cyclists take the time to stop and interact with Chasing Dreams families.

“It’s inspiring meeting all these young men and listening to their stories about cycling cross country.

This has to be so hard on them both mentally and physically,” Babjak said

Tawyna Locklear, of Hobart, became involved with using the services of Chasing Dreams for her daughter, Hailie Locklear, 9, about a year ago.

Locklear’s daughter, who also was diagnosed with Down syndrome, played in the sand with new friends while her mom talked.

“They (Chasing Dreams) keeps us busy and I like that,” Locklear said.

Andrew Bublitz, of Tinley Park, Ill., said this marks the 29th year for the Journey of Hope.

The cyclists, who average about 75 miles a day, started their ride June 8 at the Golden Gate Bridge and headed east, Bublitz said.

On the same day, two other groups of Journey of Hope cyclists started out with one in Seattle and one in Los Angeles.

67 friendship stops such as the one in Northwest Indiana.

The Ability Experience, made up of fraternity brothers from Pi Kappa Phi, was started in 1977. The Journey of Hope was started in 1987 by Pi Kappa Phi fraternity alumnus Bruce Rogers.

Bublitz said the group is looking to raise about $650,000 for various charities including for grants like the one given to Chasing Dreams last year.

For information, visit www.pushamerica.org and www.chasingdreams.org

Those wanting information on Chasing Dreams also can call (219) 299-9049.