Jack Johnson can't sing and doesn't know how to make banana pancakes, but he can freestyle rap and bike 100 miles in one day.
A senior in communications studies and minoring in political science and cinema studies, Johnson's outlook on life changed last summer after participating in the Journey of Hope cross-country cycling trip.
Journey of Hope, a 4,000-mile expedition from San Francisco, Calif., to Washington, D.C., is hosted by Push America, a philanthropy organization run by Pi Kappa Phi (PONG), Johnson's former fraternity. PONG is the only fraternity in the world to own and operate its own national philanthropy, Johnson noted.
Journey of Hope raises money and awareness for people with disabilities. Johnson heard about the trip from his fraternity president when he was a freshman at UT.
"As soon as he told me about it, I said 'I am doing that before I graduate,'" Johnson said.
To participate, riders must raise $5,500. Last summer, Journey of Hope raised $500,000 in total. The trip lasts approximately 60 days, from June 10 to August 12. Riders cycle anywhere from 50-100 miles a day, crossing 15 states in the process.
"I've bled and sweat, and probably cried, in almost every state across the country," Johnson said.
Every day, riders finish with a "friendship visit" to a different organization that Push America helps support. Johnson fondly remembers playing blind baseball and being "schooled" in wheelchair basketball by the NCAA Wheelchair Basketball Champion. His favorite memory, however, was meeting Kate in Wisconsin.
Kate is a young girl with an undiagnosed disability, and Johnson's friendship visit was to simply take Kate around the mall. Johnson quickly noticed a UT "PowerT" sticker on Kate's wheelchair and later learned his fraternity brother and close friend Houston Carbaugh had met Kate during his own Journey of Hope trip and has stayed connected with her since.
"It was unreal," Johnson said. "It was probably the coolest moment in my life, to be honest with you. ... It makes the whole thing worth it."
Not big on athletics, Johnson admits he hated the daily bike rides but would commit to another summer of fatigue to experience what he felt that summer again.
"It's supposed to be a symbol," he said. "Every day, you get up and you ride and you struggle and you hurt, sweat, bleed, cry and hate your life, but at the end of the day, no one is telling you to do it. You can stop, but someone with a disability – they don't get to."
Johnson also related more painful experiences during the expedition, which included a concussion while biking through Ohio and being hit by a car in Utah.
"Jack is outstanding," J.J. Lovegrove, former PONG president and current chapter adviser for the fraternity, said. Lovegrove met Johnson when he was the recruitment chairman for PONG.
"He is very detail oriented, mature beyond his years," Lovegrove said. "He is just a very forward-thinking person. He has some perspective that he sees the world in a much different way than a normal college student does."
Having lived in Nashville for the past 12 years, Johnson said coming to UT "just made sense."
"I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else," Johnson said.
Ultimately, he sees himself writing movie scripts. This is a recent development, but Johnson is currently writing and looking forward to developing his cinematic knowledge through more classes.
His passion for film was sparked this year in his Screenwriting Cinema Studies 365 class.
"I've never had a class I've enjoyed more," Johnson said.
Johnson is also working to train his best friend for this summer's Journey of Hope.
Having served as a member of SGA senate, Fraternity Park senate and Volunteer Challenge Chair for All Campus Events, Johnson enjoys getting involved in a wide range of organizations and clubs. He also served as vice president, philanthropy chair and social chair for PONG fraternity.
"When I find something I really like," Johnson said, "I just want to do it all."
Lovegrove said he appreciates Johnson and has high hopes for the young man.
"I can't say enough good things about him," Lovegrove said. "He will do something great with his life. No doubt about that."