Baltimore Sun – North County News article December 2014

On the front page of the paper!

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Kevin Payne had no idea what to expect when he left his Parkton home on April 1 to bike across the country and back.

But he did know what he wanted to accomplish through the trip.

His goal was to pay tribute to his older brother, Jake, 22, by raising awareness of Williams syndrome, or WS, the disorder that Jake was born with. WS affects some 25,000 Americans who have developmental delays, learning disabilities and kidney or heart problems.

Kevin, 19, also aimed to raise money for the nonprofit Williams Syndrome Association.

The impetus for the nearly 8,000-mile trip was partly due to an accident of sorts.

After graduating from Hereford High School in 2013, Kevin’s plans to attend Slippery Rock University on an athletic scholarship were scrapped when he was hit by a car while skate-boarding and broke his collarbone. So the former high school runner and pole-vaulter lived at home and looked for a project.

Tribute to a brother
Jake Payne, holding Hitch, a Chihuahua, shares a moment with 5-year-old Oliver Kunin on Nov. 13, the day Jake’s parents threw a party for Jake’s brother Kevin, who biked and ran across the U.S. and back as a tribute to Jake, who has Williams syndrome. Oliver also has the syndrome. (Baltimore Sun Media Group)
“I thought about biking across the U.S. but I knew I needed a mental goal, too,” Kevin said. “I’ve always looked up to Jake, so I wanted to do something to honor him. He’s had some tough times, but he never lets anything bother him.”

Kevin asked John Roemer, his running coach at Hereford, whether he thought Kevin had the stamina to bike across the U.S. As it turns out, Roemer, did just that in 1980 when he was a sophomore at John Hopkins University.

“I biked 4,800 miles, but I didn’t do it for a noble cause like Kevin,” Roemer said. “I was able to give him a sense of what to expect,” Roemer said.

Kevin’s parents, Debbie and Bob, weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea. Debbie admitted to “a bit of nervousness” that was eased when she found a computer app called Find My Friends. Using it, she tracked Kevin’s whereabouts on her cell phone.

lRelated In support of his brother, Parkton native Kevin Payne to bike across the country
In support of his brother, Parkton native Kevin Payne to bike across the country

Kevin hopped on his bike on April 1, carrying clothes, a sleeping bag and hammock, extra tires and inner tubes and a cell phone with solar panel for charging.

His route took him down the East Coast into Florida, then across the southern U.S. and into California. Most days, he biked between 75 and 100 miles. When he wasn’t with a Williams syndrome family, he camped out or spent the night at a fire station, college or church.

He had encounters with some alligators and a bear that climbed a tree to eat his food, but remained safe and healthy as a solo biker.

Kevin was featured in local newspapers and television news stations as he made his way across the U.S. He used the media coverage to raise awareness of WS, handing out fliers describing WS that gave links to the association’s website.

Kevin was at a Wal-Mart in Hugo, Okla., in mid-May when he spotted a litter of puppies in a box in the parking lot.

I’ve always looked up to Jake, so I wanted to do something to honor him. He’s had some tough times, but he never lets anything bother him.
– Kevin Payne
“I picked the smallest of the litter and went in and bought dog food and a leash with the little money I had,” he said. He named the Chihuahua-mix “Hitch” — short for hitchhiker — and placed him in a trailer he towed behind his bike.

Kevin almost called it quits around Las Vegas. He had seven flat tires in two days and the weather was miserably hot. He called home and said he wanted to quit. His mother said, “Come home.” His father said, “Get back on the bike.” He listened to his father.

He and Hitch made it to California in time to attend the Williams Syndrome Association’s national convention held July 2-5 in Garden Grove. He also got to see his mother and brother, also there for the convention.

A friend indeed

Kevin didn’t expect to have companionship on his trip home from the West Coast, except for Hitch, but that was soon to change.

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Back home, Dan Burkoski, Kevin’s friend since elementary school, had just finished his first year at Salisbury University and decided not to return in the fall. He called Kevin to see if he’d like company on the way home, then got a one-way airplane ticket to Oregon.

Like Kevin’s parents, Dan’s parents, Amy and John Burkoski, weren’t happy about their son’s plans at first.

“We didn’t want Dan to go, but after talking with Debbie and reading Kevin’s blog, we got behind it,” Amy Burkoski said. “We finally said, ” ‘You’re 19. If this is something you’re passionate about, go for it’.”

He met Kevin July 28 in Bend, Ore. Rather than buy another bike, Kevin decided to run home and gave Dan his bike.

“I would call myself a casual athlete,” Burkoski said. “I hadn’t ever really ridden a bike any distance before I joined Kevin. The first day, he was out so far ahead of me. I said, ‘I’ll just keep going until my legs go numb’.”

Tribute to a brother
Family and friends celebrate the safe arrival of cross-country bikers Dan Burkoski, left, and Kevin Payne, far right, with a party Nov. 13 in the church hall at Our Lady of Grace. Pictured with Kevin are his brother Jake Payne, right, who is holding party guest 5-year-old Oliver Kunin. Jake… (Photo by Pat van den Beemt)
Kevin and Dan traveled 35 miles that first day of running/biking in Oregon and averaged about 30 miles a day after that. When it was hot, they rested during the day and hit the road at night.

Their entourage grew by one when they were in Wyoming and saw a puppy tethered to a tree by a wire around its neck. They liberated the black puppy and named him CB, for coffee black.

The two made their way from Oregon to Illinois until a foot injury stopped Kevin from running. But instead of quitting, the two 2013 Hereford High School grads simply got a second bike and continued on, their mileage increasing dramatically now that both were riding bikes.

The duo kept pushing pedals until they arrived in the Hereford Zone just before sunrise on Nov. 5 — 217 days after Kevin left in April. The final leg of the trip was a 163-mile ride that lasted 22 hours.

“We wanted to be home so bad that we just kept going,” said Kevin. “We sat at the end of Dan’s driveway at 5 a.m. We just kept looking around. We were home. It was surreal.”

Jake had no idea he’d wake up that day in early November to see his brother home for the first time in seven months

“I was lonely a lot when he was gone,” said Jake, who works at Wegmans in Hunt Valley as a courtesy clerk. “But when I woke up and he was here, I was like ‘Sweet’. I really missed him.”

Mission accomplished

Not only did Kevin and Dan make it home safely, they raised almost $11,000 for the Williams Syndrome Association.

Along the way they met scores of children with the condition and spent some nights with their families. Those families knew Kevin’s itinerary because Kevin’s mother, Debbie Payne, past president of the Williams Syndrome Association, had posted it on that organization’s Facebook page and website.

Kevin was also meticulous about updating his blog with photos and stories about WS kids he met, as well as details of his route and mileage.

Kevin and Dan mostly slept, ate and slept for a week after they got home. On Nov. 13, their families threw a party at Our Lady of Grace hall in Parkton. Family and friends stopped by to congratulate them and meet some other WS children.

Jake spent much of the day with Oliver Kunin, 5, from Ellicott City. He was diagnosed with Williams syndrome as an infant. When his mother, Jacque, contacted the Williams Syndrome Association, Debbie Payne answered her questions and calmed her fears.

“It helps me to see how great Jake is doing,” Jacque said. “There are so many people who don’t know about Williams syndrome. That’s why their trip was so important. Now maybe people will understand a little better.”

To ready Kevin’s blog, go to

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