Graduate Looks to Inspire Others with Cross-Country Bike Trip

Derek Blalock has a can-do attitude. The Advertising major, who graduated this December, likes to set goals for himself and then does whatever it takes to achieve those goals, no matter how big or small.Within the past few months, he has successfully accomplished a number of goals, including earning his bachelor’s degree, delivering an MSU commencement speech, and completing a 78-day, 7,000-mile solo bike trip while raising $15,000 for the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation.

Blalock, who didn’t start speaking until he was about 5 years old and doctors didn’t know why, was the chosen speaker for the fall 2015 MSU Communication Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony.

“Fortunately, one day I just started talking,” Blalock said, adding that the honor of being selected to deliver the commencement address meant the world to him.

Biking for a Cause

During his speech, Blalock talked about his cross-country bike trip, which began in Charleston, S.C., May 16 and took him north to New York City, then west to East Lansing and on to Los Angeles and San Diego, then back east to South Carolina, where he ended his journey 78 days later on Aug. 1 at the Greenville Drive baseball game, a minor league team in Greenville, S.C., that he interned with the summer of 2013.

The overall journey took Blalock through 24 states. Along the way, he dealt with extreme rain, excessive heat, 20 flat tires, one broken chain, one busted wheel frame, and climbed “a combined height of five Mt. Everest.”

For three straight days in Arizona, Blalock experienced 115-degree days, but said the worst weather he experienced was near Washington, D.C., when he biked 80 miles in 40-degree temperature with hard rain most of the way.

Along the way, he had the opportunity to visit several presidential libraries and museums, college campuses, historic landmarks, the Grand Canyon, St. Louis Arch, Four Corners, Country Music Hall of Fame and the Pacific Ocean. He attended professional baseball games and threw out the first pitch at several minor league baseball parks.

But the main purpose for the trip was to raise money and awareness for teenage heart health. During his senior year of high school, one of Blalock’s best friends, Thomas Smith, died of an undiagnosed enlarged heart. Since then, Blalock has worked to raise awareness for this problem, which kills nearly 2,000 athletes under the age of 25 every year. He also has raised nearly $25,000 for the the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation, including $15,000 alone from his cross-country bike trip. The foundation helps provide free heart screenings to youth athletes and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to local high schools.

“I truly believe that my stories, especially from my bike trip, can help inspire my fellow students to help others and not be afraid of taking gambles in life,” Blalock said. “This journey showed me that I can literally do whatever I want. I've never been a huge bicyclist, but I wanted a unique way to raise money for my friend’s charity and I just dedicated myself to this trip.”

Offering Advice

During his commencement speech, Blalock told his fellow graduates to “not let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. There are those who didn’t think I could or would do this trip. They told me they would believe it when they saw it. So, prove the doubters wrong.”

Another piece of advice he shared is to “enjoy life because you don’t want to wake up one day and realize that 30 years have passed and wonder where life just went. I can tell you on at least two dozen occasions during my trip I had people say they wished they would have done similar adventures.”

Work Experience

During college, Blalock completed internships with two minor league baseball teams: the Greenville Drive and Colorado Springs Sky Sox.“My two internships in minor league baseball I landed because I went to one of the best advertising schools in the country,” said Blalock, who also interned with the MSU Athletic Communications office this past semester.

“Michigan State University has opened the door for so many opportunities, and I never thought I would be in the position I am in today,” he said. “I have met lifelong friends, acquired new skills I never thought I would, and have had opportunities to cover and work huge events.”

Blalock is now ready to begin his next adventure. He recently accepted a position with the Texas Rangers baseball team as a communications assistant in their PR department and will begin his new job in early 2016. He also is training to compete in an Ironman triathlon in Mexico in November 2016