Two Marines Are Biking from Boston to Seattle in Honor of Their Fallen Brother

PAX2PAX will take two service members on a 4,400-mile journey on two wheels.

In 2007, during his second tour in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Lance Corporal Johnny Strong—known to his friends as “Best Buy” because of his insatiable desire to own electronics—was killed by an enemy sniper while on routine patrol as a mortarman.

Before he died, Strong’s lifelong dream had been to make a name in the video-gaming industry. “He wanted to become a programmer,” said Jay Knight, who served with Strong in Iraq, and had always promised that the two would attend PAX Prime in Seattle together, one of the largest gaming conventions in the country.

But with both of Strong’s dreams far from realized due to his untimely death, Knight’s decided to fulfill at least part of his promise to the former Marine, by riding his bike from PAX East Boston—being held this weekend on the city’s waterfront—all the way to Seattle, in time for PAX Prime in September.

“Everything is going to be on our bikes. We are going to be hauling all of our stuff in bike trailers,” said Knight.

Starting Friday, at 9 a.m., Knight and fellow Marine Dan Salisbury will pack their bikes up in front of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and pedal toward Seattle, leaving the East Coast gaming convention in the distance. They’ll try to make it to PAX Prime by following a mapped out path across the country in the next 142 days—something Knight said is “plenty of time” to complete the journey in memory of their friend. “I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think I could do it. When I first started thinking of this, it was more about what was feasible. But we only have to average about 40 miles a day to complete it,” he said.

Although Knight isn’t into video games, he recognizes the importance of the industry, and said this trip was a good chance to bring attention to its prominent role in the business sector while also keeping his promise to Strong. “He was a part of my team; my brother and my friend. I want to help his memory live on in a way that exemplifies his aspirations and caring heart,” Knight said.

He got a boost for his trip, called the “The Johnny Strong Charity Ride for Child’s Play,” through a $5,000 grant he received from the Travis Manion Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps service members and service members’ families do projects in honor of those who were killed overseas. On top of the grant money, Knight and Salisbury are also trying to raise $100,000 through their website “Pax2Pax.org” All donations from that endeavor will be redirected to the Child’s Play Charity, which was started by the founders of the Penny Arcade and PAX conventions. The chairty tries to improve the lives of children in hospitals across the country by donating video games and other toys to the facilities.

Along their 4,400-mile journey, Knight and Salisbury will stop into various hospitals that are part of the Child’s Play program to visit with patients. “It’s not so much to raise money for something he was involved in but to put [Strong’s name] alongside something good in the industry,” said Knight.

Knight, who flew into Boston and has been staying with friends ahead of his trek, said he’s not bummed to miss out on PAX East this weekend, only because his real prize is on the other side of the country. “I just want to make it to PAX Prime. That’s the prize for me, to get to the end,” he said. “I have never been to one.”

A good workout and the feeling of doing something selfless aren’t the only things Knight will get from the experience. The Marine said organizing this trip, and working with the various organizations to raise money in Strong’s name, has inspired him to pursue a career in charity work: once he finally puts his bike to rest in Seattle, that is. “It’s nice to wake up in the morning knowing you’re doing something good,” he said. “I’m definitely going to pursue a career in non-profit management after this, something that was spurred by this work.”

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