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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A 24-hour bike ride in Memphis helps raise money and hope for children in need

A 24-hour bike ride in Memphis helps raise money and hope for children in need
By:  Michael Lander

The St. Jude Bike Ride begins with what is known as a "Victory Lap," in
which all of the cyclists ride together on the 3-mile course on Riverside Drive.
After that, and for the next 24-hours, only one member on each team can be
on the course at any given time.

Cycling is a fun and healthy activity for children and adults alike and it would also seem to play a part, at least in one way, in helping children who are in need.

Most of us have a compassionate and caring side for those in need, and children, especially, hold a very special place in our hearts.  They can be the biggest and most important part of our lives and they can give us our greatest joy.  We often do everything that we can to protect them and to do what we can to keep them happy, healthy, and safe.  Sometimes, however, we are not always able to do this alone. 

Every day, there are children who are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases and cancer.  For them and their families there is a place where they can go to get help in the fight for their lives.  That place is
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

St. Jude is known around the world for what it does and it is unlike any other pediatric treatment and research facility anywhere else.  Discoveries made at this life-saving place in downtown Memphis have completely changed how the world of medicine treats children with cancer and other deadly diseases.  Researchers there continue to find new, better, and more innovative ways to treat these children every day. 

Riverside Drive is one of the most scenic spots in Memphis and it's
an ideal location for an event like the St. Jude Bike Ride.

In order for St. Jude to carry out its pioneering research and life-saving care, it relies on donations and on fundraising efforts, which enable it to provide the services and treatment that it is known for.  All of this is offered at no cost to any of the families who have children who go there.  One of the ways it does this is to host an annual bike ride in downtown
Memphis, on Riverside Drive.  This year, that bike ride took place on 19 - 20 Sept. 2014.

This bike riding event is a 24-hour team relay bike ride that began at around 6 p.m. on Friday night and lasted until 6 p.m. on Saturday evening.  This annual ride raises awareness and money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and this year over 300 cyclists participated and raised approximately $136,000. 

September is not only a good month to do a ride like this in Memphis, because of the cooler temperatures, but it is also recognized nationally as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

This was my first time to participate in this event and I joined a team, known as the "Gray Falcons," which was led by a man whom I have known and long admired, Lt Col (Ret) Billy Privette.  Besides me and our team captain, the other member of our team was a man of many talents and abilities, Lt Col (Ret) Gary Jewel.  The three of us are all retired members of the Tennessee Air National Guard and, even though we were few in number, collectively, our three-man team raised a total of $4,845. 

For some participants in the 2014 St. Jude Bike Ride, it's all about
the speed, but for others is is more about taking a slow and steady
pace with a focus on endurance.

I signed up for this ride just weeks before it took place and I dedicated my ride to a sweet, little girl, Alexandria Page Whittington.  Alexandria was a flower girl in my wedding in 1991 and she was a patient at St. Jude for most of her life.  Even though this beautiful child did not survive the cancer that eventually ended her life far too soon, she will live forever in the hearts of those who knew and loved her, and she will always remain an inspiration to me and others for the courage and strength that she had as she so bravely fought during her life.

Of the approximate 300 cyclists who rode in this year's event, most were on teams and only one member of each team could be on the nearly three mile route on Riverside Drive at any given time.  The route looped around Riverside with a place to turn around near West Georgia Ave. to the south and Jefferson Ave. to the north.  Cyclists were tracked by a timing chip that showed the time and the number of laps that each person had ridden on the course, which was monitored by
Start 2 Finish Event Management.

At one time or another, you could find cyclists riding everything from unicycles, to mountain bikes, cruisers, Townie bikes, BMX bikes, Cyclo-cross, road bikes, and more.  Some of the cyclists were riding a nice slow, leisurely pace while others looked like they were in the Tour de France and were traveling at speeds that were easily in excess of 25 mph.

After hours of riding, the hill on Riverside Drive, (near West Georgia
Ave.), may begin to feel a lot like trying to climb a mountain, but coming
down the other side of it is always more fun and requires a lot less effort.

Participants and teams earned awards for the most laps completed in the solo, (male and female), two-person, (male and female), co-ed, and all male, female and co-ed team divisions.  These and the top fundraisers were all recognized during the closing ceremonies on Saturday night. 

Throughout this 24-hour event, there was live music from groups like
CCDE, Dead Soldiers, The Band Droids, Yearwood and Ford, and Freeworld.  Food was provided by Lucchesi's, Lost Pizza Co., Dominos, Chick-fil-A, Wade & Company Catering, Moe's Southwestern Grill, and McAlisters.

Participants could come and go as they wanted to or they had the choice to camp out in Tom Lee Park for the night.

I had a lot of fun on this ride, myself, and I met some wonderful people from St. Jude as well as some of the other cyclists and those who were there working as volunteers for this event.  I also achieved some personal bests, riding a total of 140.38 miles and riding continuously (non-stop) from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on my aluminum-framed Trek hybrid bike during this 24-hour team relay bike ride.  I did not get much sleep, (only about two hours, if that), but we kept someone on our three-man team on the road for most of the 24 hours. 

Three hundred cyclists participated in this year's St. Jude Bike Ride
raising awareness and thousands of dollars for the kids at St. Jude
Children's Research Hospital.

I was happy that I was able to do this ride, and was able to do my part for my team and for St. Jude, getting and surpassing the century mark, with a body that is over half a century old.  Even though I had personal success that I am proud of, I was especially pleased that I was even able do this, or any other ride, at all. 

It was almost exactly a year ago that I experienced a terrible
injury and break to my left arm and it was only earlier this year that a MRI revealed that I had three bulging discs in my neck.  Two years ago, (on Labor day weekend), I also had to be treated for severe disc problems in my middle and lower back that required a trip to the emergency room where I received shots of morphine just to alleviate the excruciating and debilitating pain.

In spite of any of the physical issues that I have faced over the years, I was elated that I was able to overcome them and was still able to ride as long and as hard as I did during this event, but the most moving and touching moments of all for me on this bike ride weren't the ones involving me.  Instead, it was moments like the one when I listened to a sweet little girl, (who is a cancer survivor, and a former patient at St. Jude), who sang the National Anthem Friday evening and seeing another beautiful, little girl who St. Jude helped save, who was smiling and cheering for us as we rode by her.

Cyclists participating in the 24-hour St. Jude Bike Ride could take in the
beautiful scenery along Riverside Drive at all the different times of the day
and night.  The late night rides could be very peaceful and much cooler
than the ones done in the middle of the day.

Even though it does feel great to have people rooting and clapping for you on a ride, I really felt like it was I who should have been cheering for this precious child, and others like her at St. Jude.  It is for children like her, after all, that we do rides like this and it's what makes this ride especially meaningful for those who do it.

For those who might be interested in seeing what this ride looked like from the perspective of a cyclist, here is a video that I shot during this event: 
2014 St Jude Bike Ride.  For those who would like to know more about St. Jude and the ride itself, here is a link to their website:  For further information, you can contact the Regional Event Specialist, Lee Bobo, at 901-373-5051.

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