He rolled up around mile 60 of the first day and asked about my Pelotonia jersey, which reads “SURVIVOR” on the back. “When?” he asked. I responded, “The first time was in 2001. The second was around four years ago, and I’m working on number 3.” I can still get that heartbeat of surprise and silence, even in a large group of cancer survivors, caregivers, fundraisers, and supporters who speak the language. That’s not what I was going for. Mine was part of a bigger message on this Pelotonia weekend, my third and most favorite. Mine was more of a statement of Defiance of cancer (as usual) and what still is to me, the power of clinical trials. <=That’s the heart of Pelotonia.
I got in to Columbus on Thursday, to get a little extra time with the Ullman family before the whirlwind of the weekend hit gale force. Of course, Doug (CEO/President of Pelotonia) has been whipping up the whirlwind for a while, and early Thursday morning, we found out one big reason: He’d gotten Former VP Joe Biden, Mr Moonshot himself to speak at opening ceremonies. I was over the moon (pun unintended, but discovered upon proofreading), having just purchased tickets for the Wasatch Speaker Series, pretty much just to hear Joe Biden. His goal of getting cancer institutions to share information and have Big Brains work together in research and trials for cancer (One Goal, anyone?) is… well, it’s common sense, but it’s also a bit of policy brilliance for someone who will directly benefit. I was psyched.
It’s impressive to see how Columbus a becomes that One Goal city for Pelotonia. The levels of support and passion from its big corporations and its grassroots supporters to push the James Cancer Hospital forward in its goal of curing cancers are unique and wonderful. I tagged along with Doug to a reception at a supporter’s home. Cindy and the grassroots team she put together raised $300,000 this year. Then next morning, we went to a business innovation conference, mostly created to get riders and corporate dollars to Pelotonia. Their gift to Pelotonia was a million dollars. And 8022 Pelotonia riders raised $15 million dollars in individual accounts from $100 to upwards of $55,000. This is town that puts its money where its cancer research center is. And we’re all better off for it.
15,000 people came to Pelotonia opening ceremonies. The message was upbeat and powerful. We heard from Survivor and survivor Ethan Zohn, Dr Jill Biden, and then the vice president. (As one 20 something commented later the line up and the weekend’s events were better than Lollapalooza!). He talked about his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer, and data sharing, and teamwork. Then, he talked about hope, what he called “real hope,” created by innovative work in labs and hospitals across he country. It was enough to make me want to ride my bike for 180 miles in nice, cool weather nicely
delivered by Pelotonia. 🙂
Day one was a century ride out of Columbus and into some of the towns and lots of farmland, meandering into Kenyon College, where we stayed for the night. I’d had decent and fairly consistent training; I’ve lost my speedy mojo but the mojo that is my ability to suffer for long periods of time still exists. The first 50 miles or so were relatively flat. Then we got into some perfect rollers—where you go as fast as you can down and the momentum takes you up the next hill. My riding partners were two of my Kilimanjaro climbing teammates, Nelson and Jeremy, and my friend Alex and his son, Michael. We stayed together for a lot of the day, but at the end, I just wanted to get off the bike, so I basically skipped the last rest stop and had to conquer the Big Hill at the end by myself. Which, I suppose, you always do. The temptation to walk up this hideous bit of steepness just about at mile 100 was great, especially since half the people around me were walking. But they were also yelling that I could do this, it was only a few more pedal strokes, and more that I couldn’t decipher for the blood pounding in my ears. I have taken the road bike up steeps at 4 miles an hour so I was pretty confident I wasn’t going to fall over. And I didn’t. And I didn’t walk. And I didn’t mind that Day One was really 102 miles.
Great food for dinner, a shower, some live music, and a real bed, and we were ready to do it again in the morning. It started with a big climb (7-10 percent for you bike and triathlon geeks) right out of the college, which wasn’t very nice. In the first second on the bike, all the lactic acid that had pooled in my legs rose up in a big tsunami, but again, I wasn’t going to let it wash me off my bike. Besides, the next 30 miles were worse. Note to route planners: A series of 10-14% climbs are NOT perfect rollers. The terrain is typical East Coast, short steep climbs with no rhythm. It was pretty gruesome. But after some rice krispie treats, M and Ms, and weird Barbie-sized cheese crackers, life on the bike improved.
My whole group came back together and hooked on with a giant pace line for the last 20 miles. I was always pretty confident I could do the 180, but you never really know. Someone asked me what my docs say about my endurance adventures, and I said they never say no, so I stopped asking.
What I’ll remember most is the people on the side of the road. The man with the signs that said “Your riding saved my wife’s life and my family.” The barn owner who painted this Pelotonia arrow, then spent the entire morning taking pictures of riders who stopped to admire it. The families planted for hours in front of their homes with signs and cow bells (MORE COW BELL!) and snacks and water, shouting thank you. The entire town of Granville lining the streets cheering, jumping, excited that they can personally show their appreciation that we raised millions of dollars for their cancer research hospital. (If the number of people who said they now want to move to Granville really do it, there will be rural urban sprawl.)
I’ll also remember Carissa, whose brother had testicular cancer in the 90s and died. And whose husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer a few years ago and lived. (I actually was drafting off of her for miles on Day Two and figured I should at least strike up a conversation. A little bike etiquette.) We talked about her cancer experience and mine while the miles rolled away. We found each other at the next rest stop and exchanged teary-eyed hugs. And the man I took aback with my cancer story on Day One somehow found me, too. He still didn’t have much to say, but he gave me a bear hug that spoke volumes.
This weekend showed the world what the power of like-minded people can do. One of the themes was “The greatest team ever,” which was entirely appropriate. Raising incredible amounts of money, strength, fitness, but mostly raising hope that One Goal is a whole lot closer. Defy.