3,000 Miles of 15-Minute Sprints to End Child Trafficking

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There’s a detective who works with Homeland Security, a 6th grade teacher, a bank president, two business owners, a research scientist, a project manager, and a land survey vice president.

What’s the connection? They want to set children free from human trafficking.

Beginning on June 17, eight cyclists and their crew will set out on a non-stop, transcontinental relay race from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, in the 2023 Race Across America (RAAM).

It’s a grueling, muscle-numbing, sleep-depriving, and stunningly beautiful ride, covered in alternating 15-minute calf-searing sprints by each rider.

The freedom of child trafficking victims is their fuel.

Founded in 2002, ZOE International has a mission to reach every person with God’s love and rescue every child from human trafficking through prevention, rescue, and restoration programs in five countries—the United States, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, and Australia.

Brad Ortenzi, a former undercover online child exploitation investigator with the Ephrata (Pennsylvania) Police Department, is ZOE team’s race director. He also serves as the Eastern USA Regional Director for ZOE. Ortenzi and his wife, Lori, were introduced to ZOE’s work firsthand in 2014.

“We visited Thailand and expected to see shattered, broken kids, but instead, we saw children overflowing with joy,” he explained. “They were healthy and healing, exceeding our expectations. Lori and I were stunned. When we saw what was happening, it was a mystery I needed to solve. I wanted to get to the bottom of this. What in the world was going on here?”

ZOE competed in the RAAM in 2019, claimed third place, and raised more than $175,000 to fight child trafficking. They took first place in 2021 and received donations totaling more than $380,000 for ZOE International. This year, the team’s goal is $750,000.

Their journey will take them from the Pacific Ocean to iconic Monument Valley in Utah, up the Rocky Mountains, through the windblown plains of Kansas, over the mighty Mississippi, past the cornfields and soybean fields of the Midwest, and over the Appalachian Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s the classic American road trip on a continuous loop for six days. Except on bicycles. Using a never-ending supply of muscle ointment. And with a profound life-saving purpose.

Heartbreaking Stats

The growing problem of child sex trafficking globally and in the United States is an issue that is close to the team’s heart. Here’s why:

The idea of competing in the race began for Ortenzi in 2014 during that life-changing trip to Thailand.

“The children’s fight inspired me,” Ortenzi said. “Every one of them was a fighter—fighting to get their life back. Their fight inspired me and changed my life. Competing in Race Across America allows ZOE to take this fight against child sex trafficking across the United States.”

“I wasn’t aware of human trafficking happening in the states,” noted crew chief and former cyclist, Allen Fisher. “ZOE is bringing freedom to many children, and I want to stand with them. If we pull one child out of sex trafficking, it’s worth it.”

For more information about ZOE International, visit gozoe.org or zoeraam.com and the 2023 Race Across America at raceacrossamerica.org.

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