By: Michael Lander
Once a year hundreds of them gather along the Mississippi River in Memphis with their bicycles, and for 24 hours they ride on relay teams for the children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
These cyclists are drawn together for St. Jude Ride, a 24-hour team relay bike ride, which will take place this year along a portion of Riverside Drive on Friday to Saturday evening, Oct. 23 – 24.
Even though the cyclists who participate in this event are of different ages, skills, and abilities, they all share one thing in common and that is their support of St. Jude and its lifesaving work on behalf of the children who receive treatment there.
Lee Bobo is the event director for the St. Jude team relay bike ride for the second year.
Everyone who signs up for the St. Jude ride is on a team and “we have solo teams, duo teams, and teams of up to 12 people,” Lee Bobo said.
|The St. Jude bike ride had 305 cyclists in 2014 and the event|
director, Lee Bobo, is hoping to have at least 500 for the
upcoming ride in October this year.
There are no limits on how teams are formed except that they are limited to a maximum number of 12 people. They can be made up friends, families, co-workers, members of various clubs or other organizations, or a combination of all these and more.
The upcoming 2015 team relay bike ride will be the fourth of its kind hosted by St. Jude, and it's something that Bobo is very much looking forward to and is excited about. More than anything, she finds the whole experience of this event as something that is extremely fun and rewarding.
“The most rewarding part for me is seeing so many groups of people coming together for this one mission,” Bobo said.
That mission for Bobo is an enormous undertaking, but the payoff is huge since the money that is raised goes toward research and treatment. It can offer hope for children and their families when they are confronted by one of the most difficult and challenging circumstances that they could ever face.
|The St. Jude bike ride has cyclists with vastly different skills|
and abilities and those who come to watch will have the
chance to see cyclists on everything from unicycles, hybrids,
road bikes, and even those bikes specifically made for racing.
"St. Jude Ride is a great way for cycling enthusiasts to not only push themselves to the next level, but do so while supporting a great cause," Chris Boysen said. Boysen is the Sr. Vice President of ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and a regular participant in the St. Jude Ride.
"Fundraising events like this are critically important because the majority of St. Jude funding comes from individual contributions. Because of events like the St. Jude Ride, the Memphis Walk/Run for Childhood Cancer in September, and the St. Jude Marathon in December, we are able to ensure that families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food. The only thing families should worry about during this time is helping their child live," Boysen said.
The St. Jude Ride started in 2010 by Ann Leatherman who wanted to do it in appreciation of St. Jude and in honor of her daughter, Eliza. Eliza was a St. Jude patient who successfully won her battle against a life-threatening disease.
The first year, it was a century ride that was called the ‘St. Jude Give Thanks, Ride’ and “the first committee was made up of mothers, aunts, and relatives of patients who wanted to give back to St. Jude,” Bobo said.
“The event was so successful that it became an annual event. The next year, (in 2011), St. Jude decided to change it to the 24-hour model to make it a unique event especially for Memphis,” she added.
Since they made that change, the event has grown from 186 cyclists in its first year in 2011, to 280 cyclists in 2012, to 305 in 2014, and Bobo said that the goal now is to have at least 500 participants in 2015.
|For some, the St. Jude ride is a big family event and, while small children|
under 12 years of age are not riding in the event themselves, some of
them do have their own bikes with them like their parents.
(Photo: Courtesy of Lee Bobo)
Click on this link to register for the 2015 event: http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ride_home
This year, Bobo and her 10-person committee is planning to create a more festival-type atmosphere, which she hopes will attract more spectators and enable them to enjoy the event, along with the cyclists. In order to do this, they are plan to set up risers where spectators can cheer on the riders throughout the day and night. They will also be able to purchase a wrist band that will allow them to eat at the hospitality tent.
With the exception of these changes, and moving the event from late September to late October, Bobo said that cyclists will find much of what they have known will remain the same for this upcoming ride in the fall.
The ride will remain a team relay event, which means that only one person on a team can ride at any given time over the 24 hours that it takes place. Team members can decide for themselves when they want to ride and they can switch off as they wish.
|Many of the participants in the St. Jude ride pitch tents and spend|
the night in one of the best locations in all of Memphis - in Tom
Lee Park. (Photo: Courtesy of Lee Bobo)
As in previous rides, cyclists will be required to wear a helmet and they must have a headlight and tail light on their bicycles, which must be turned on from dusk until dawn.
When they aren’t riding, cyclists can hang out and eat with their friends and/or family, cam out in Tom Lee Park, and listen to live musical performances late Friday night and throughout most of the day on Saturday.
After the ride, teams will be recognized and will receive awards for the most money raised as well as those on the solo, two-person, and larger teams who complete the most number of laps on the 3-mile loop of Riverside Drive. Tracking is done with timing chips that each cyclist must have on them.
Long before cyclists ever show up for the ride, Bobo and many others behind the scenes spend countless hours planning and preparing for an event of this magnitude. These efforts begin immediately after the current year’s event is over.
|When cyclists are not out riding for their respective teams, many|
of them find some time to talk, eat, rest, and some even have a
little time to play with the kids. (Photo: Courtesy of Lee Bobo)
“It takes a full year to plan, execute, promote, and work with all of our participants who sign up,” Bobo said.
“I have a wonderful committee of 10 people…. and we have about 40 volunteers who come out and help from setting up, taking down, and everything in between. It is a huge production to put together a 24 hour event like this and we appreciate all the help we can get to make it happen,” she added.
For those who might be interested in volunteering, they can contact Lee Bobo at Lee.Bobo@stjude.org and she will send them the sign up information.
The St. Jude Ride relies heavily on the help of its volunteers, and the hospital itself relies on the generosity of those who are willing to give. Because of them, St. Jude is able to continue to provide the care and treatment to critically ill children, which it is able to provide at no cost to their families.
|After riding, some cyclists find nothing more relaxing than just|
sitting along the river bank and looking out on the Mississippi
River, which can be especially nice with the sun setting on
Friday evening. (Photo: Courtesy of Lee Bobo)
The hospital was founded in 1962 by Danny Thomas and it was his vision that no child will ever be denied treatment at St. Jude based on race, religion, or a family’s inability to pay.
"I think it is amazing that our founder, Danny Thomas, had the foresight to create a place where no child is denied treatment.... particularly during the 1960's - the height of a tumultuous time in Memphis," Boysen said.
As for Thomas' vision, the only way that it can become a reality is through its many fundraising efforts and the 24-hour relay bike ride is one of the those ways. Last year’s ride raised $140,000.
For many, like Boysen, it is an honor for them to work at ALSAC, which is the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude.
"I have been here 20 years and it is so rewarding for me to be able to play a small part in this beautiful mission to help raise the necessary funds to operate the hospital and save the lives of thousands of children battling cancer," Boysen said.
As for the ride, there may be no better way to have fun with friends, family, and fellow cyclists for up to 24 hours while helping the children of St. Jude and their families.
With the changes that have been made, it should be a much bigger and better event for the cyclists and spectators alike this year.