I met many people this summer who told me I was crazy: I cycled from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska with 41 other UT Austin students to raise money for cancer research. As you read this, you might think I'm crazy, too -- but let me give you some background about how I became involved in this incredible organization called LIVESTRONG Texas 4000 for Cancer.
Since 2004, a group of approximately 50 UT Austin students has biked each summer from Texas to Alaska to help fight cancer. Each rider is responsible for raising $4,500, which is roughly a dollar for every mile of the summer ride. Since the beginning, Texas 4000 has raised more than $3 million. My team alone raised more than $300,000. Each year, the team that rode that summer gets to decide where that money goes. Past teams have donated to MD Anderson, cancer navigation services at LIVESTRONG and even the UT Biomedical Engineering department. Yet we do more than just fundraise. In fact, our three pillars are spreading Hope, Knowledge, and Charity in the fight against cancer. So, in addition to fundraising, we also seek to spread awareness about cancer statistics and early detection. To do this, we reach out to the communities we cycle through and put on programs about cancer prevention.
The summer ride itself is meant to symbolize the fight that patients endure as they battle cancer. It takes 70 days in all. Some days were absolutely wonderful and some days were the most difficult days I have ever experienced in my life. A cancer patient experiences similar ups and downs during treatment. Although the pain that we feel as we cycle is very temporary and does not hold a candle to the hardship that cancer patients endure, it is our hope that by cycling in their honor, we can inspire people to keep fighting their disease.
It was this hope that first inspired me to apply. I can still remember where I was when I heard about Texas 4000 for the first time; I was sitting in my organic chemistry class when a few riders from the current team at that time came to the front of the room to announce the application deadline for the next team. They gave a brief overview of the organization that was similar to what I have detailed above, and I could not believe my ears. It was incredible to me that a group of regular college students, many of whom were not athletic, were willing to ride their bikes from Texas to Alaska to inspire someone to keep fighting. I realized as I sat speechless in my seat how truly impactful the organization is. Texas 4000 is meant to inspire. Texas 4000 is meant to amaze. Texas 4000 is meant to show people that a group of college students cares not only about putting an end to cancer, but also works toward that goal. I knew I wanted to be a part of that group.
Soon after I heard about Texas 4000, I sat down to complete the application. The application required me to talk about my passion for fighting cancer, my abilities as a team player, and my volunteering and fundraising experiences. A few weeks later, I interviewed with previous riders, then received a phone call informing me that I had been accepted onto the 2012 Texas 4000 team. I smile now as I reflect on the phone call because I had no idea at that time how much my life would change as a result of Texas 4000.
This acceptance came nearly 18 months before the ride began. The fundraising, volunteering, and training requirements are very considerable, and being accepted so early allows the next team to learn from the team before them during the six months before they leave. It also gave us even more time to be together as a team. So, for 18 months, my teammates and I met every Monday evening to plan the ride. The summer ride is completely student-run, which means that we had to plan the route, find host families for each night of the ride and figure out how we were going to eat and shower along the way. Because Texas 4000 is a nonprofit organization, we did not spend any money on food or housing. We relied on donations to eat and slept anywhere we could stay for free. All along the way we met incredibly generous hosts who housed us in school gyms, community centers, homes or churches. When we reached less populated areas of North America, especially in Canada, we camped. My teammates and I set up all of these host sites during our planning time.
We also spent the 18 months prior to the summer ride fundraising and volunteering in the Austin community. One of the central ways that I fundraised my $4,500 minimum requirement was through a letter-writing campaign; I wrote to my family, friends, neighbors and old classmates to tell them about what I would be doing that summer. As soon as I sent my letters, I received an overwhelming response of support. Another fun and somewhat unorthodox way that I fundraised was through panhandling. I stood on the side of the road with my jersey, a collecting tin, and a sign that read, "Biking from Texas to Alaska for Cancer Research." I was pleasantly surprised by how many people would roll down their car windows at the stoplight and hand me loose change. In one particular four-hour period, I raised nearly $300.
We trained extensively during the 18-month preparation period. Each rider is required to log at least 1,500 training miles prior to the ride. Yet even before beginning this training, we had to learn how to "clip in." Like many of my teammates, I had not ridden a bike since I was 10 years-old. I therefore was unaware of all of the fact that serious cyclists have special shoes that actually attach to the pedals of their bikes. The advantage of clipping in is that the cyclist continues to propel the bike forward even when she lifts her foot to begin another pedal stroke. As a result, the cyclist moves significantly faster. Yet for a beginner cyclist like myself, clipping in also meant that if I ever stopped pedaling, I would fall over because I was completely attached to my bike. To say that I fell a few times would be an understatement. However, my teammates, a number of volunteer coaches, and past riders were always there to help me up when I fell. Slowly but surely, my teammates and I increased the mileage that we rode together each week until we were able to do a "Century Test." This test entailed riding 100 miles in less than 10 hours.
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