2024 Blog

Why I Ride: Gracie Hornung

Hi! I’m Gracie Hornung. I’m from a town called Seabrook, TX just outside the Houston area. I’m finishing up my bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at The University of Texas at Austin here in a few weeks (scary!) and plan to become a primary care doctor. After Pedal the Pacific, I am moving to Peru to serve as a Community Health Volunteer for 2 years with the Peace Corps. I would say I’m a pretty bold and ambitious person, but my mom might say I just have a wanderlust that makes her constantly check my location. 

Naturally, when I came across Pedal the Pacific on Instagram in 2021, I was immediately enamored with the spirit of the women on their bikes. They were just casually accomplishing something so incredible, admitting vulnerabilities with ease, and seamlessly directing their efforts toward something greater. The fight against domestic sex trafficking was not just for lawyers or law enforcement officers, but something driving a mismatched group of girls down the Pacific Coast. 

At the time, I didn’t know a lot about domestic sex trafficking. I could conceive that it was an issue, but not ever something that would affect me. I thought sex trafficking always looked like a girl getting her Achilles sliced by a random man hiding under her car, then snatched away into a van and driven far, far away.

However, the reality, I learned, is much more sinister. Not only have tens of thousands of trafficking cases been reported in the United States since 2021, when I started learning, but my hometown of Houston, TX was a hotspot for it. Houston has the highest number of reported cases of sex trafficking of any city in the US. (Source: Polaris Project) The heartbreaking truth is that most victims know their trafficker, and many are sold by their own families. Using the word “sold” when talking about actual, human people, feels wrong. How could people manipulate and convince others to be sold like chattel? It’s the kind of information that stops you cold. 

I’ll be honest, I still know very little about the anti-trafficking movement. Although I pride myself on staying up-to-date on the issues in my community and the world at large, it's uncomfortable to think that I had been so ignorant of such a pervasive issue. It’s even more uncomfortable to think that before I had heard of Pedal the Pacific, it never even crossed my mind that there was a way I could help. So, humbled and driven to do something more, I applied for Pedal the Pacific.

With Pedal the Pacific, there is room for everyone in the fight against domestic sex trafficking, no matter your starting point. So if you’re reading this right now, and are at the beginning of learning about the cause, you’re in the perfect spot!

Creating a world in which people are not for sale requires ordinary people to strive for the extraordinary. Pedal does this through our ride. In the summer of 2022, I completed another charity ride called Texas 4000 for Cancer and cycled from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK. Throughout that summer, I learned that cycling is a much bigger tool than most people realize.

It allows you to start conversations that wouldn’t otherwise take place without the bike as a catalyst. It allows you to fold more people into the fight, and listen to people’s stories that power each pedal stroke. During my summer ride two years ago, I met so many people who saw me in a gas station or fixing a flat tire on the roadside and took their time to talk to me about their cancer story.They wanted to learn more about our fight, and they only came up to me because  my jersey read “Fighting Cancer Every Mile.” Many people felt disconnected from our cause before seeing us, and our ride gave them a reason to get involved and learn more. 

Cycling down the Pacific Coast with people you’ve only met once in person before is objectively kind of crazy, but it’s the crazy that makes our cause so powerful. The crazy draws attention. It makes people ask “What are you doing?” “What does the back of your jersey say?” “Why are you here?” which allows us to introduce an uncomfortable topic in an approachable way. 

Sex trafficking is real, and happening in all our communities. It’s our responsibility to stand up and make space for survivors to feel understood and valued. It’s our responsibility to listen to survivors and follow their lead when constructing new policies. It’s our responsibility to come together and educate ourselves on what sex trafficking actually looks like, how to prevent vulnerable situations, and what to do when you encounter abuse. 

I still have so much to learn, but I can’t sit still anymore waiting until I feel knowledgeable enough to take action. Every conversation counts, and that’s the spirit that will carry me down the coast this summer and throughout the rest of my life. While I can’t save the world alone, I know that with this team of 8 incredible women, tons of alumni willing to help show us the way, and countless supporters cheering, learning, and teaching, every pedal stroke is an effort in the right direction. 

July 12, 2024
Chloe Aguilar

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