By Lyn Dowling
For FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE His years at Florida Institute of Technology have been quite the ride for Wade Dauberman: Saturday morning, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrobiology, the first degree of its kind at FIT and the country.
When he returns to the university to pursue a doctorate in biological sciences, it will be after he takes a ride of an entirely different sort: 4,700 miles crosscountry, to raise funds for the Scleroderma Foundation, which fights and researches the autoimmune disease that took the life of his father two years ago.
It will begin at 8 a.m. today at the university, proceed up the East Coast to Washington, where he has supporters following an internship at the Goddard Space Flight Center; and then to his hometown, Turbotville, Pa. There, festivities have been organized to welcome the favorite son and contribute to his cause.
"Basically, the whole town should be there," he says with a laugh. "Its a small town."
From Turbotville, he will head west to Michigan, where, in Ann Arbor, he will visit the University of Michigan, which has one of the worlds primary centers of scleroderma research; to Michigan State University, where he has friends; and to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., "because it sounded like a good thing to do. My roommate is a huge Packers fan."
He expects to make 80 miles a day across the northern states, finishing in late summer at the Pacific coast of Washington, having seen Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park.
"The challenging part is the Rocky Mountains. Its just brutal," he said. "There are so many hills, and Im carrying a lot of extra weight on my bike. Ill have about 40 extra pounds of baggage with my tent, sleeping bag and bike tools. But, really, the hardest part is going to be the mental and physical toll of riding alone."
So it will be, but Dauberman is not one to shy away from a challenge. A personal trainer and cycling instructor at FIT, he took up the bicycle while rehabilitating after knee surgery, following an injury suffered while playing soccer and quickly grew to love it.
The driver, however, is what befell his father.
Having gone undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed for years, James Daubermans symptoms skin problems, swelling, hardening of organs, eye problems, infections finally were determined to be caused by scleroderma in 2008, when he was 58 years old. He died in 2010.
"It was not found soon enough and doctors did not know the correct way to fight it," his son said. "I feel as though his death never had to happen and could have been avoided with the right treatment. My mom had to fight to get them to start a certain treatment, and by the time they allowed it, it was too late. After countless surgeries, he ended up contracting an infection and could not fight it off. I do not know all the details exactly, because I was at school in Florida while most of this was going on back home in Pennsylvania. However, I did get to spend my last summer at home with him and I will cherish that forever."
He is determined that others need not go through what his father did and wants the world to know about scleroderma, which affects more than 300,000 Americans.
"I do not want to see this happen to other individuals and will do everything I can to help fight it," he said.
He hopes to raise $4,700, a dollar per mile, during his trip, and it is more than likely he will do so before he ever takes off in earnest, already having raised $2,400, with more expected at his departure, where representatives of the university and Scleroderma Foundation will be present, and at that fundraising event in his hometown.
"Maybe I should go for $2 per mile," he joked.
He confessed that his mother, Diana Dauberman "is worried" about his long, solo voyage during what he called "the last summer I will have free in a long time."
Those who seek a cure for the condition that killed James Dauberman consider his son a hero.
"We are honored to team up with Wade as he leaves on this remarkable journey to honor his fathers legacy. Not only that, his trip will raise much-needed awareness about scleroderma. This trip is a message of hope and a reminder to everyone with a connection to scleroderma that there are others battling to find a cure," said Robert J. Riggs, chief executive officer of the Scleroderma Foundation.
And Dauberman will have more remarkable journeys, should all go his way.
His doctorate will be in biological sciences, and to take it, he will study the effects of space travel on astronauts, whose ranks he would love to join.
"If they accepted me to be an astronaut, I would say, fantastic, " he said In the meanwhile, he pedals forward to the Northwest and, hopefully, answers to questions about a killer.
"I want to help others get a diagnosis faster and have a better chance," he said. "You cant beat scleroderma entirely but you can break it down so it doesnt affect your life as much. Thats what I want."