Home > Local News > Life of service calls to war vet

Life of service calls to war vet

Sunday December 12, 2010 
Tim Durrin will travel to Cambodia in January to start a six-month humanitarian cycling tour of the country. (Holly Pelczynski


PITTSFIELD — Tim Durrin had an epiphany as he sailed down Sheffield’s Cooper Hill on his bicycle in the summer of 2006.

“I was overcome by this overwhelming sense of joy as I was coming down this long, gradual hill,” the Housatonic man said.

The episode proved to be a life-changing moment for the
26-year-old Iraq war veteran, who as a teenager enlisted in the Army to
serve his country, but later came to question his military mission.

With the sun shining down and the warm wind in his face, that
moment of unadulterated joy ultimately opened Durrin’s eyes to what he
really wanted to do with his life: travel the world and help people.

With that, Durrin next month will embark on a six-month
humanitarian cycling tour of Cambodia, a part of the world still
reeling from a genocide that killed roughly 1.7 million people from
1975 to 1979.

Since returning from Iraq in 2005, Durrin has tried to live a
life of meaning and purpose, which includes practicing yoga, being kind
to others and riding his bike — some 5,000 miles this year alone.

“It was a huge, 100 percent … life change,” Durrin said of
that moment when his vision for life suddenly became clear on Cooper
Hill.

He joined the antiwar group, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and came to view the war as unnecessary and unjust.

“I was just a scared, lonely kid right out of high school when I
joined the Army. I knew I didn’t have college on my mind at that point, and I knew that I wanted a sense of purpose,” said Durrin, whose grandfather and uncle were both military men.

“I think a lot of why I joined was, I was really young and naive and uninformed at the time,” he said.

The Fitchburg native settled in the Berkshires, where he had
stayed with friends prior to enlisting in the Army, and instantly fell
in love with the region’s culture and countryside.

The Berkshires have since proven to be the perfect training
ground for the serious cyclist, who became hooked on long-distance
riding after taking a spin on a friend’s bike. Before long, cycling the
county’s byways became Durrin’s therapy, his way of coping with life
after war.

In Cambodia, however, the 101st Airborne Division combat
veteran’s mission will be to help bring education and technology to the
war-torn nation.

Durrin’s itinerary could change depending on his circumstances,
but right now he’s scheduled to land in Bangkok on Jan. 6, then make
his way to Cambodia. Once in country, he’ll travel to Kampot Province
in southern Cambodia, where Durrin will get his bearings before
beginning his odyssey.

“That will be my launching site,” he said.

Durrin hopes to dispatch the image of the “ugly American” during
his trip to Southeast Asia. That means working with people and learning
from them, not proselytizing and preaching the American way, he said.

“I want to be very humble and learn from them first, and then help them in a non-invasive, non-Western way,” he said.

“I’ll go where I’m needed most,” said Durrin, adding that he’ll remain flexible — and purposeful — throughout his journey.

His tentative plan is to work with high school-age students who already possess a decent grasp of the English language.

“If [students] need laptops, I’ll get them laptops,” he said.

Durrin has made a connection with an American in Cambodia named Charles DiBella (www.bike
paths.org), whom Durrin plans to meet up
with in Kampot Province. Durrin said DiBella’s own solo cycling tours
and educational efforts in Cambodia have served as an inspiration for
him.

Durrin’s plane ticket is already paid for, but he’s still
trying to raise as much money as possible before leaving next month.
The money will directly benefit Cambodians, and more than two dozen
Berkshire businesses so far have donated to Durrin’s mission, dubbed
“Swifty’s Cambodian

Adventure To Bring Education and Technology to a
War-torn Country.”
“Swifty” is the nickname given to Durrin by Ben Skeen, an
employee of Great Barrington’s Bike & Board, the Route 7 shop where
Durrin spends much of his free time.

Durrin, a Berkshire Community College student, will post highlights of his Cambodian mission on his website, http://www.swifty

rides.com. Durrin said he plans to blog
regularly about his experiences so that family, friends and classmates
in Massachusetts can follow his efforts.

Durrin will be “monastery hopping” for much of the trip. But he
does have a sleeping bag and tent for the times he can’t find shelter
for the night, he said.

In terms of cycling equipment, Durrin’s friend, Rob Magadini,
provided him with an old cyclocross bicycle — basically a regular
touring bicycle with knobby tires. And Durrin said his buddies at Bike
& Board hooked him up with “all sorts of gear.”

“They’re sponsoring me,” he said of the Great Barrington bike shop.

For anyone who knows Durrin, his desire to help and learn from others is part of his overall character.

“I think what Tim is doing is a great inspiration for people all
around Berkshire County,” said Dagan Diaz, a friend from Great
Barrington.

“We could all learn something from the selflessness of this trip,” Diaz said.

A going-away party for Durrin is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Dec.
17 at the Gypsy Joynt, a Route 7 restaurant in Great Barrington.
Tickets are $5, $10 and $20, and all proceeds will benefit the Cambodia
mission.

The party will feature local musicians, disc jockeys and artwork, as well as raffles and gift certificates.

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