A 28-year Kiwanian, Robert Burlison Jr. has been riding motorcycles for even longer. His idea to combine a passion for service with the enjoyment he feels when he’s one with the elements on his bike blossomed into apotentially Guinness World Record-breaking trek across 48 U.S. states raising more than US$25,000 for mothers and babies around the globe.
Ten years ago, Burlison, a member of the La Cañada A.M., California, Kiwanis Club, had an epiphany. “I thought going for a ride that was really a ride would be cool, particularly if I could tie it to something with some kind of purpose,” he says.
“My dad said it best when he said that Kiwanians are real cowboys,” he explains. “They are courteous and respectful, and when they do something, they don’t do it to get anything in return.”
The cowboy analogy is a reference to the movie “City Slickers,” which tells the story of three friends whose mid-life crises lead them to take a vacation driving cattle across the western United States to find renewal and purpose.
Burlison also drew inspiration from his father, who passed away this spring. “Dad joined the U.S. Navy when he was 19 and flew Avenger torpedo bombers,” he explains. “The significance of his life became huge. But I was in the service in a time of peace, so what have I done?”
After mulling his idea around for several years, he proposed it to his Kiwanis club and entertained ideas for a cause for which to ride. Kiwanis International’s Global Campaign for Children, The Eliminate Project, seemed like a perfect fit.
“I’m doing this to make the point that you need to find your own way to make a difference,” he reflects. “I decided to ride a motorcycle, but you’ve got to figure out what your secret of life is by looking at what you want to do and how you might do it.”
Putting the idea into action was no simple task. The club’s ambition to break the 11,200 mile (18,025 km) record for riding a motorcycle in a single country required the support of a committee of club members-turned-logisticians planning the route and connecting with clubs in the chosen cities. Although the Guinness Book of World Record’s specifications dictate that Burlison cannot leave the 48 contiguous United States, he’ll be sharing his message — and the chance to enter a drawing for a donated BMW C650GT Urban Mobility Vehicle — with Alaska and Hawaii via Skype.
Throughout the course of the 12,300 mile (19,795 km) ride, Burlison —affectionately termed “The Eliminator” — has been met by motorcycle groups, welcomed into the homes of both family and Kiwanis members and even invited onto cable and radio shows. This support not only showcases the Kiwanian spirit, but also enables the La Cañada A.M. club to keep the costs of the project low and present what they hope will be a US$25,000 check to The Eliminate Project.
Burlison’s favorite stops include Wichita, Kansas, where 10 American Legion riders roared up to his hotel to escort him to the club meeting and Parkersburg, West Virginia, where he was welcomed to a club meeting including press, local officials and members from another nearby Kiwanis club.
Speaking of the generosity others have shown him, he clarifies, “That’s why we called this the Kiwanis Unity Ride to Eliminate.” — Courtney Meyer