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From Atlantic to Pacific, the golfing is terrific; McKinney student completes 96-day fundraising odyssey

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After three months on the road whacking a golf ball, Luke Bielawski had surprising plans for his first day back home. Hint: It’s a sport played with clubs and a little white ball.

The student from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law has spent the better part of his summer teeing off from California to South Carolina as a fundraiser for Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.

golf_ventura_beach-15col.jpg IU McKinney School of Law student Luke Bielawski starts his summer golf odyssey by teeing off at Ventura Beach, Calif. He golfed across the U.S. to raise money for an Indianapolis school. (photo submitted)

Bielawski and his team followed a trek along the Southern half of the United States, going through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia before arriving in Charleston. He spent anywhere from six to 14 hours each day hitting the ball from wherever it landed, along a highway, in a field, on a mountain, on the beach.

“The trip has been a blast,” he said. “We’ve had some great experiences, but it’s also been a challenge physically and mentally because of the monotony.”

Golf2-1col.jpg  (Photo submitted)

Right after he completed his semester finals at IU McKinney School of Law in May, Bielawski headed to the Pacific Ocean to begin his summer golf odyssey. His goal was to raise $100,000 for scholarships at Providence Cristo Rey as part of a fundraiser he called “From Tee to Shining Tee.”

He completed his journey Aug. 10 by stepping onto The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C., swinging and launching a biodegradable golf ball into the Atlantic Ocean.

Finishing was “very surreal,” he said, but he was ready to return home and settle down for his last semester of law school.

“I’m very passionate about golf, but I’m also very passionate about the law,” Bielawski said. “I am looking forward to going to class, seeing my professors and reading cases.”

Golf3-1col.jpg  (Photo submitted)

As for his agenda upon first arriving home, he did not talk about indulging in a home-cooked meal or taking a nap in his own bed. Even before he unpacked, Bielawski planned to go to his local golf course and play 18 holes.

For 96 days, Bielawski’s routine included little besides hitting a golf ball.

He would start swinging about 8:00 each morning and broke for lunch around 12:30 p.m. A half hour later, he teed off again and continued, usually, until 5 or 5:30 p.m. He motored from shot to shot in a John Deere Gator while his team followed behind in a recreational vehicle.

On one day, under perfect conditions on a perfect road, Bielawski logged 62 miles.

Golf1-15col.jpg  (photo submitted)

Sore muscles, aches and pains were common. Hitting off rocks and asphalt aggravated the physical demands which made Bielawski happy to find himself on a dirt and sand road.

Memories of the trip will likely be sprinkled into his conversations for years to come.

Highlights from his scrapbook include:

Unexpected Event: meeting President George W. Bush. Bielawski and his team met the former commander in chief at his office in Dallas. They spent an hour talking about their families and a little about the presidency.

“It was a blast being able to get to meet him,” Bielawski said. “He is very, very down-to-earth. He really wants to know you as a person.”

Most Memorable Shot: hard to say. Among so many swings no shot stands out, but Bielawski has vivid memories of the landscapes. The red rocks in Arizona, the long straight roads, fields and cattle in Texas, the swamps in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the coastline of the Palmetto state.

Through the desert, he tried to hit around the mountains. And when he did have to climb one, he proudly reported he never lost a ball on the assent. Coming down, he admitted, was a different story.

Golf5-15col.jpg  (photo submitted)

Best Moment: blowing a tire. Near the town of Pinon, N.M., the truck towing the RV blew its right front tire. In need of tools to change the flat and having no cell phone service, Bielawski and his cousin hopped into the Gator to drive into town. However, after nearly 30 miles, they were still in the middle of nowhere so they stopped at a house and knocked on the door.

Out came the Kniepkemp family, who loaned them tools, fed them, gave them water and handed them the phone so Bielawski and his cousin could assure their families at home everything was fine.

When the truck was finally fixed, the Kneipkemp children joined Bielawski for 10 miles and helped him spot where the golf ball had landed.

Bielawski reunited with the Kneipkemps in South Carolina when the family came to celebrate the final shot.

Learned on Trip: just how big the U.S. is and how kind people are. While he was whacking golf balls, people often pulled up to inquire what he was doing. Several golfers took time to hit a few balls along side Bielawski.

Golf4-15col.jpg  (photo submitted)

“It’s surprising that in each county everybody is just phenomenally nice and hospitable,” Bielawski said.

While in Tucson, Ariz., and Birmingham, Ala., Bielawski got fresh doses of inspiration from visiting the Cristo Rey schools in those communities. He mingled with the students there and talked about his 2,900-mile journey.

Bielawski, unsure how much money he has raised to date, planned to continue fundraising for Indianapolis’ Providence Cristo Rey High School. The RV used on the trip will be sold and items from the trip will be auctioned, all to support the school.

Mostly, he cannot wait to greet the students in the incoming class, and he is very excited about the school’s talk of possibly starting a golf team.

“Maybe I’ll help out with that,” Bielawski mused.•

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