By: Michael Lander
Once a year, Memphis’ Riverside Drive is shut down to traffic for one 24 hour period and it’s opened up to hundreds of cyclists who come together to participate in something that isn’t quite like any other bike ride in the world.
This bike ride is a 24-hour team relay cycling event is hosted by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is known around the world for their life-saving research, treatment, and care of children whose families can receive it without ever having to pay.
Those who do this annual ride for St. Jude can either ride as soloists or with a team and each one competes in fundraising and in the number of laps that they can do on a 2.83 mile loop of Riverside Drive.
|Adam Cruthirds was the team captain for Adam's|
Army. He spoke to participants before the start
of the St. Jude Bike Ride about his battle with
cancer and the life-saving treatment and
support that he, and others like him, have
received at St. Jude.
This ride can be a real of test of endurance, perseverance, and it often requires a great deal of stamina, however, it is really nothing compared to what the children and their doctors at St. Jude must face every day as they fight for these children's lives.
Even though the ride is a competitive cycling event, it is also about having fun, and it is made all the more special and meaningful when you know who and why you are doing the ride.
The 2015 St. Jude Bike Ride took place on 23-24 October and for the second year in a row the Gray Falcons team was a part of it.
|Billy Privette, the team captain for the Gray Falcons, (in a red jacket), |
listened to some announcements and instructions before the
ceremonial lap commenced and the 2015 St. Jude Bike Ride
Billy Privette was the team captain for the Gray Falcons in both 2014 and 2015. He is a retired Air Force and FedEx pilot and he got the idea for the name of his team because it happened to be the same name of a retired FedEx pilot association, of which he, himself, belongs.
In addition to Privette, his four-man team also included a retired U.S. Marine named Gary Weber, a St. Jude employee named Chris Sheffield, and me.
Weber, whose daughter and son-in-law both work at St. Jude, was looking to join a team and through their help, he was able to find his way on to the Gray Falcons team.
With his military and flying experience, Weber fit in perfectly with a team in which three of the four who had also served in the military. At 69 years of age, he is also close in age to Privette who is 70 years old.
Weber served 30 years in the Marine Corps and when they said that he was too old to go beyond that, he retired, joined the Army, and served another seven years with them.
Weber had been a runner for over half of his life and had done countless marathons over the years, but this had taken a toll on his body and that is when he turned to cycling.
|Many cyclists, like these who were out at 2 a.m., rode throughout|
the night and were not deterred by the occasional rainfall.
Chris Sheffield, who has a journalism degree at University of Memphis, and who works for St. Jude, was also looking to join a team and so with a little help from his co-worker and the event manager, Lee Bobo, he too found his way on to the Gray Falcons team.
Sheffield has had experience with running and participating in mini-triathlons and he first turned to cycling for cross-training purposes and just for the fun of it. He has ridden a bike, on-and-off again, at different times of his life and he decided that after having just turned 50 this year, he is resolved to get even more serious again with his cycling.
|Many participants of the St. Jude Bike Ride opted to spend the|
night in a tent in Tom Lee Park and they were treated to a
nice view of the Memphis skyline and the Mississippi River.
I had joined Privette’s Gray Falcons team for the 2014 and 2015 St. Jude rides and was proud to be a member of his team since I knew and respected him and I wanted to do what I could to help the children and support the mission of St. Jude. I first met and served with retired Lt. Col. Privette in the Tennessee Air National Guard in January 1987. He was my commander when I was first assigned to the 164th Combat Support Flight.
I have been a long-time supporter of St. Jude because of a little girl named Alexandria Whittington, who was a flower girl in my wedding in 1991 and who was a patient at St. Jude. Even though she fought the good fight, she ultimately lost her battle on March 4, 1993 and so, more than anything, I rode for children like her and for the hope that, someday, no child will have to go through what she did.
|This is a daytime view of tent city for the St. Jude Bike Ride with|
the Memphis skyline in the background.
This year’s ride had intermittent rain, and the roads were a little wet from the sporadic rain in the afternoon and they remained so throughout the night and into the next morning. This was not enough to dampen the spirits of the participants and it did not interfere with the ride going on as planned.
After a ceremonial first lap, I was the first one out and I was pumped up about the ride and I was riding just about as fast as I could go.
I was on my second lap when I came up to some cobblestones. Before I knew what was happening, I started to hydroplane and I fell and skidded across the road much like a baseball player does when sliding into first base or home plate. I probably slid at least five feet or more.
|The St. Jude Bike Ride is a fun-filled, family-friendly event and|
many who do the ride bring their families along with them.
The rain did little to dampen the spirits or interfere with the
ride or stop any children from playing.
Apparently, there were a handful of others who also fell and one ended up with a dislocated shoulder.
After this happened to me, I quickly jumped up. My left elbow and hip were sore from road rash. My elbow concerned me the most, however, since I had a severe cycling-related accident about two years ago and my surgeon told me that I could never afford to seriously injure it ever again.
After jumping up, I first moved my arm around, looked over my bike, and when I didn’t see any significant damage, I immediately jumped back up on it and finished my three remaining laps for my first set.
For the most part, my bike looked fine. The left peddle was scraped up pretty good and the tip of my left aerobar was shaved down by one quarter of an inch, but nothing else appeared to have been affected.
I was pretty sure that I had not seriously injured myself, but I had myself checked out by some medics and I had them treat and bandage me up since I did not want to risk another incident with MRSA that I had had in August 2009.
In spite of a little discomfort and a lack of sleep during this 24-hour bike ride, it did not stop me from pulling my share of riding for our four-man team. I did a total of 42 laps, in addition to a ceremonial lap, and I rode a total of 121.10 miles over 7 hours and 26 minutes with an average speed of 16.28 mph.
Our team collectively rode 348.09 miles with a total of 123 laps.
|Getting an adequate amount of sleep can be a big challenge for|
some unless you are like Chris Sheffield who was able to
catch a little shut-eye in between one of his turns to ride
for the Gray Falcons.
Even though we were a team comprised of older guys on older model road bikes, our team took third place in the male team category. I was very proud of this because of what our team was able to accomplish and the amount of money that we had raised in both of our St. Jude rides.
Those who donated to our St. Jude Ride helped to support the life-saving mission of St. Jude and their efforts to find cures and to save children by giving $4,625 to our team in 2014 and $2,760 in 2015.
Altogether, all of the participants in this year’s ride helped St. Jude to meet its goal by raising a grand total of $134,831.
Ultimately, when it really comes down to it, the St. Jude 24-hour team relay bike ride is really more than just a bike ride. It is an odyssey in which cyclists are not only able to challenge themselves, but they can do it while helping the children of St. Jude and their families by raising money, awareness, and hope.
St. Jude is known around the world for what it does and it is unlike any other pediatric treatment and research facility. Discoveries made there have completely revolutionized how the world treats children with cancer and other deadly diseases.
|Some local TV news stations, like WREG Channel 3, covered the|
St. Jude Bike Ride and they happened to have caught me as I
was completing one of my 42 laps. (Image: Courtesy of
With research and patient care under one roof, St. Jude is where some of today's most gifted researchers are able to take their findings and then speed their discoveries to doctors around the world.
The St. Jude Bike Ride can be an unforgettable and rewarding experience to those who do it that will extend far beyond the 24 hours in which it takes place.
In this way, it always meets or exceeds any and all expectations.