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Lots of memories, miles for cyclist who raised money for scholarship

A man who has been riding his bicycle across the country for the past three months to raise money for a scholarship created in the memory of his best friend, a UConn alum, arrived at Wal-Mart in Windham last Saturday.

The cyclist, Rick Orzolek, set out from Seattle, Wash., on his quest to cross the country by bicycle on May 23rd, in an attempt to raise enough money to ensure a match for an endowed scholarship created in the name of his friend, Andrew Aitken, who died in 1995 of Hodgkin's disease.

A scholarship fund was started in Aitken's name by the School of Allied Health in 1996. Aitken had graduated with a degree in physical therapy and it was hoped that a scholarship in his name could be used to benefit UConn physical therapy students for years to come. By the spring of 1997, more than $15,000 in contributions had been raised for the Andrew Aitken PT Scholarship Fund. To guarantee the matching state funds that would ensure endowed status for the scholarship, the school needed to raise $25,000. But time to meet the deadline to receive matching funds was running out. So Orzolek got on his bicycle.

Orzolek began his cross-country trek in Seattle, taking pledges from well-wishers. Along the way he gained the support of Wal-Mart stores and the attention of various news media in the towns he passed through.

After pedaling more than 5,000 miles, Orzolek has raised in excess of $15,000, more than enough to give the scholarship the money it needs to ensure the state match. Together with the amount raised previously and the matching funds, the scholarship's endowment will likely exceed $60,000.

"This is such a tremendous gift," says Cynthia Adams, associate dean of UConn's School of Allied Health. "If it wasn't for Rick's ride, I doubt we would have made the deadline. Now, we have a scholarship in place that will help allied health students in the name of Andy Aitken for years to come. We should all have a friend like Rick Orzolek."

Orzolek rode his bicycle into the parking lot of Wal-Mart in Windham last Saturday led by a state police honor escort. He was welcomed by Andrew Aitken's widow, Diane, who is also a graduate of the School of Allied Health, and other family and friends of Andrew Aitken and members of the University community.

David Pesci