2017-05-11 / Front Page

Old Orchard Beach couple exchange volunteer hours for trek donations

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Pairing a fundraiser with an almost dizzying amount of volunteer hours, Old Orchard Beach residents Meagan and Ben Poirier will put their feet to the pedals in the 180- mile Trek Across Maine in June to benefit the American Lung Association.

Starting in Bethel on June 16 and ending in Belfast on June 18, the Trek Across Maine is a three-day cycling event that is the largest fundraising event in the nation for the American Lung Association, according to its website. The trek has raised more than $24 million in the past 30 years. More than 2,000 cyclists and 750 volunteers participate.

The American Lung Association – based in Chicago – is an organization that since 1907 has aimed to improve lung health and prevent lung disease through research, education and advocacy, according to its website.

Meagan Poirier, 28, was diagnosed at 16 with bronchiectasis, a rare chronic lung condition where the walls of the bronchi are thickened from inflammation and infection, according to the American Lung Association. People with the condition have periodic flare-ups of breathing difficulties. Although diagnosed at 16, she was born with the condition, which has damaged 25 percent of her lung tissue and left her with a 75 percent lung capacity.

The condition, she said, has improved over the years, and doesn’t hold her back from exercising or enjoying the outdoors. It also inspired her and her husband to participate in the trek.

“I never really felt as good as I do now,” she said. “I was able to manage (my condition) effectively through diet and exercise. I run, I bike – a lot – and I do things now that I never thought I would be able to do, and was never able to do five or 10 years ago.”

The trek requires participants to raise $550 per person, or $1,100 total for the Poiriers, to be donated to the American Lung Association. However, the couple aimed to raise $1,600, with the extra $500 being contributed so Meagan Poirier’s father – who’s completed the trek before and inspired his daughter – can participate, coinciding with Father’s Day weekend.

The Poiriers, who have been married for four years, began raising money on Friday, April 28. By Monday, May 8, the couple had reached their goal, and the remaining $50 that was not raised will come from personal funds.

In addition to raising money to participate in the trek, the couple pledged to commit one hour of volunteering in the community for every $25 raised, a commitment they imposed on themselves. This totals 64 hours of volunteer work now that all the money has been raised. They began volunteering on Sunday, April 30 by picking up litter on a mile-stretch of Old Orchard Beach. The pick-up yielded discarded plastics, cans, fast food containers, coffee cups and a plurality of empty alcohol bottles, among other items.

“What struck me most was the amount of alcohol. I think we can safely assume that people aren’t consuming the contents of these bottles and cans at home and taking a drive at a later date to dispose of the empty containers along the roadside. These individuals are more likely straight up drinking and driving,” Meagan Poirier wrote in a May 1 Facebook post.

“It personally changed my life in a way where just picking up garbage on the side of the road made me feel really, really good,” said Ben Poirier, 29. “It was an eye-opening experience. It makes you feel good – you’re helping the community out.”

Because the event is more than a month away, the Poiriers won’t be able to complete the more than 60 volunteer hours, but they plan to complete them after the event, Ben Poirier said.

The bike ride will be the longest either has completed, Megan Poirier said, and will be physically taxing. However, the two regularly exercise and recreate in the outdoors. Last September, the Poiriers hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, and they’ve completed 35 of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are 4,000 or more feet in elevation.

They also dance to prepare for the trek.

“We put on Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone,’ which is a great song and is awesome, and we totally just express ourselves and just dance and get ready for Insanity,” a rigorous exercise program, Megan Poirier said.

They included the dance in a video they made and published online to promote their fundraising goal, where viewers can see that “It’s just us, being wicked weird,” Megan Poirier said.

She said she and her husband are excited to be part of something that is not only designed for a good cause, but because of her condition, is personal to her as well.

“The Trek Across Maine supports an organization and mission that’s close to my heart – and my lungs,” she said.

The Poiriers’ video can be found on Megan Poirier’s Facebook page, at http://action.lung.org/goto/thepoiriers.

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