Teen bikes cross-country; now he'll run home

19-year-old's journey aims to raise awareness, fight Williams Syndrome

Teen bikes, runs cross-country to fight syndrome

BEND, Ore. - From Maryland to Bend.

Kevin Payne's path around the U.S. takes about 9,000 miles.  In Bend on Monday night, he was preparing for his return trip.  

But it's not a flight out of Redmond.  He's giving up the bicycle, and running home -- all to raise money to fight a syndrome many haven't ever heard of.

"I wanted to do it for a reason, not just to take some time off," Payne said. "And I wanted to do it on a personal level so I did it for Williams Syndrome."

Payne's older brother Jacob has Williams Syndrome.  It's a genetic syndrome that's recognizable by facial structure, but also has associated medical problems like cardiovascular disease and learning disabilities. 

While he was at odds with his brother at first, Payne gained a better understanding of the syndrome, and built an unbreakable bond.

"It was always him and I butting heads," he said. "It wasn't until he and I got to high school that I started taking things seriously and accepting him for who he was, and understanding that he's my brother, and I love him for who he is."

And that love propelled him to spread awareness for Williams Syndrome across the country. 

With the help of the Williams Syndrome Association, Kevin loaded up food, clothing, and his 3-month old puppy "Hitch," and started cycling towards the West Coast. 

The association has hooked him up with homes across the country, giving Kevin a place to stay, and a chance to share the stories of families affected by Williams Syndrome.

"A lot of families raise their kids different, so it's nice to see a different variety," he said.  "All of these families are taking it on and grasping it by the horns, and doing as much as they can for their own child."

In Bend, 9-year-old Eric Paslay was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome when he was 3 months old.  Just a few months later, parents Brian and Nancy Paslay joined the Williams Syndrome Association. 

And when they heard Kevin Payne's story at a conference in Anaheim a few months ago, it was second-nature to open their door to him, and provide the help that the association provided them almost a decade ago.

"There are definitely some dark times early on, so to have that support system is really helpful," said Brian Paslay. "We're really proud of these guys."

The second "guy" is Dan Burkowski.  He flew into Bend on Sunday night, and will be taking over the bicycle for the remainder of the journey, as Kevin switches to running.

"I saw the opportunity to jump aboard, and I definitely seized it," Burkowski said.  "It's not always going to be a paradise, but the motivation, for his brother, the motivation is way too strong to quit."

But as Kevin, Dan and Hitch pack up, rest and ready for the second long leg of their cross-country trek, the motivation goes beyond family lines.

"They're superheroes," said 9-year-old Eric Paslay, sitting with his family after some time playing with Hitch. "I love them to be here."

Full updates, background and profiles of the families helping Kevin's journey are available on his website at  So far, he has raised nearly $10,000 for the Williams Syndrome Association.  He hopes to arrive home by Christmas.

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