By Cathy Dyson, Sunday, May 24, 2009
Fredericksburg, VA News

When Erika McLemore makes up her mind to do something, watch out.

"She’ll find a way to do it, whether it’s running a marathon, learning how to make a quilt or biking across the country and building houses," said Katie Lee, her friend since middle school. "She always goes after things 100 percent."

McLemore, whose maiden name is Amburgey, grew up in King George County, the daughter of the late Guy and Betty Amburgey, both of whom retired from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren. McLemore served in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at King George High School, then graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006.

The 24-year-old tends to accomplish whatever she sets her mind to, her friend said, even if she knows absolutely nothing about it. Take the marathon and making a quilt. McLemore thought it would be cool to run 26 miles, and planned to train, but when the day of the Country Music Marathon in Nashville dawned, she’d barely done any extra running. (She’s no couch potato; she regularly runs about 25 miles a week.)

She and her husband, Tim, finished the marathon, but didn’t set any records. McLemore took the same approach when she decided to make a quilt for Lee’s birthday. McLemore knew nothing about sewing, but bought a machine and figured out how to arrange images of the Care Bears that Lee loves so much.

"That’s just who she is," Lee said.

McLemore’s next feat will be to bike 1,268 miles, from Michigan to Florida, during the heat of summer. As part of the Fuller Center for Housing’s Bicycle Adventure 2009, she’ll stop eight times along the way to help build houses. So what if she just started biking last month and knows little about construction?

McLemore heard about the group, which focuses on affordable housing and offering riders a spiritual journey, and thought it sounded cool. "I thought it combined the best of both worlds: vacationing and doing something to help other people," she said.

Her JROTC teacher at King George High isn’t surprised. When McLemore led the program before she graduated in 2002, she "brought everybody along," said Cmdr. Fred Duckworth. "Where a lot of teenagers were more self-centered, she was always more focused on other people."

She ran on the track team in high school and says running gives her a lot of endurance–and the appearance of being in shape. "I fake it well," she laughed."

Amburgey and her husband met at the Naval Academy and married a year after graduation. During their honeymoon in Jamaica, they took a bicycle tour of the island and loved it.

They’ll ride through the middle of America together, starting July 10. She’s a surface warfare officer who worked on Tomahawk missiles last year and now monitors radar systems on the USS Leyte Gulf, a guided-missile cruiser. She just completed a deployment to West Africa, doing counter-piracy and drug operations. He deals with computers and communication.

The two have to raise $4,000 each to meet the team’s goal of raising $200,000 to build homes. But because Erika Amburgey is not the kind of person to accept the average, the couple have set their goal at $50,000. "This is enough to build AN ENTIRE HOME in the United States," she wrote in an e-mail.

She knows the goal may be lofty, given the economic times and the reluctance of corporate sponsors. But she’ll still aim for it. "It’s completely consuming me right now," she said. "It’s all I want to do. I can’t wait."

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