AD+PR Alumnus Derek Blalock Bikes 7,000 Miles to Raise Awareness for Heart Health

Raising $15,000 for the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation by biking 7,000 miles, Advertising alumnus Derek Blalock ’15 captured the adventure of a lifetime in his new book The Heart to Ride. 

With a dedication to memorialize his friend, Thomas Smith, who had passed away from heart disease at the age of 18, Blalock biked across America in 2015 to raise money and increase awareness for teen heart health. Putting his journey into words, Blalock’s book will be published as an ebook and paperback on March 26, 2018.  

“Biking 95-plus miles every single day for three months fries your mind, and I was always doubting my progress and impact,” said Blalock. “[However], being able to write this book over the last two years allowed me to properly reflect on the ride and showed me that I actually learned a lot, met many new friends and did something most people just dream about.” 

7,000 Miles of Biking

Starting in Charleston, South Carolina in May of 2015, Blalock left on his journey across the United States. His ride ended over 7,000 miles later in Los Angeles. With nearly 700 hours in complete isolation, he had time to reflect on the moments that prompted this journey. 

During his senior year of high school, his close friend Thomas Smith died of a sudden cardiac arrest induced by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy––a disease where the heart muscle abnormally thickens. It went by undiagnosed, though it could have been detected by heart screenings. Free heart screenings are now offered by the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation across the state of Michigan. 

“I felt the urge to do this bike ride and raise money for this charity, because of two reasons,” said Blalock. “First, because of his charity, the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation, which raises money to provide free heart screenings to teenage athletes. And second, I felt my life slipping out of control and I didn’t want to wake up one day when I was old and gray and regret not making more of my youth.”

With an ambitious mission at hand, Blalock began to train for his ride. Dedicated and impassioned, he prepared for the mental journey as well.  

“I had never ridden more than the mile it took to get across MSU’s campus, so I had to transform my body and mind to complete this trip,” said Blalock. “Looking back, I was probably a little naive, but in my opinion, a little naivete is fine because if I wasn’t just a tad naive about it, I wouldn’t have had these life-changing experiences.”

The Quest for Success

Michigan State University was pivotal in helping Blalock’s storytelling success. In addition to his studies, Blalock worked for three years at The State News as a general assignment reporter, administration reporter, copy editor and sports reporter.

“Some students just go to class for four years and graduate, and then they leave and hope they land a job just because they have a degree,” said Blalock. “That might’ve worked 30 years ago, but that isn’t possible nowadays, and I’m lucky I learned that early on from my co-workers at The State News.”

After his years at MSU, Blalock has already made an impact on the world. In addition to becoming a published author, Blalock currently works at H&R Block as a marketing and operations coordinator. In his free time, Blalock is a freelancer for the sports section of his local paper. One day, he hopes to work for a Major League Baseball team or even come back to work for Michigan State University. 

Blalock says, “I’ve moved more than 25 times in my life, and MSU is the only place that truly felt like home.”

By Sierra Richards