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Don Fraser: A passion for adventure and service


Don Fraser

Nov. 13, 2015 – Ten years ago while still a student, Don Fraser (’07 B.S. biology) started working for the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program as a technician and boat operator. In 2010, he was promoted to watercraft operations manager, providing logistical support for college research, especially for projects taking place along coastlines and waterways.

Fraser holds a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license for vessels under 50 tons, a necessity in his job because of the volume of research on birds, fish, and other animals the college conducts that requires the use of a boat. “I operate the boat in tricky places off the Atlantic coast, keep the ATVs and watercraft working, and have traps, nets, and other equipment ready to go,” he said.

Fraser acquired his nautical skills under the tutelage of his father, Professor Jim Fraser, a noted ornithologist and researcher in the college. The younger Fraser remains excited about the college’s research and the adventures he undertakes in the name of science. “Sometimes I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this,” he joked.

Fraser’s other passion, founding and running Bike the US for MS, is rooted in his concern for his mother, Nina, who has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for over 30 years. The nonprofit organization, of which Fraser serves as executive director, promotes research and support for patients with MS, a chronic and disabling disease affecting about 400,000 Americans.

Fraser first set out with three friends on a two-month transcontinental bike ride in 2007 to raise funds and awareness for MS. He repeated the trip in 2009 with 12 cyclists. The number of riders doubled the following year and grew to 140 in 2014. Bike the US for MS currently offers four east-west cross-country trips, two north-south trips, and the option of cycling segments with the group. Half of the participants’ $1 per mile fee, often raised through donations, goes toward MS research or patient support. Riders complete service projects for MS patients along the route. “Many say the service projects are the most life-changing part of the trip,” Fraser noted.

As the event has grown, so has its impact. The organization had raised $1.3 million through 2014 and funded research, treatments, home modifications, and a nurse practitioner position at an MS clinic, and contributed to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s NOW (No Opportunity Wasted) campaign.

Fraser, who no longer makes the cross-country trek but rides segments when he can, will soon start recruiting for the 2016 ride. “The day-to-day challenges of the ride are challenges that you can live through,” he said. “You push and survive, and in the end you will be stronger and more confident, just like people who have to live with MS.”

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