ANTON — Michael Tatalovich is happy he can walk again.
And as for his ability to cycle from Austin to Alaska, the 20-year-old cancer survivor is pleasantly astonished.
“I never imagined I’d be on a cross-country bike ride,” he said with a laugh.
Tatalovich, a junior architecture major at the University of Texas, is riding in the Texas 4000 this summer in honor of his and other folks’ battles with the deadly disease. He and 23 fellow riders left Austin June 3, cycling westward. They stayed overnight in Snyder Tuesday and Lubbock Wednesday. When A-J Media caught up with them Thursday morning, they were on a break near Anton on U.S. 84, preparing to head toward Clovis, New Mexico.
The group wants to promote cancer research and support, sharing the three pillars of its mission: knowledge, hope and charity. Before the trip, participants each had to raise $4,500, perform community service and train heavily.
Sixty-six total University of Texas students are riding three routes; all are set to arrive Aug. 12 in Anchorage, Alaska.
The past week has been fairly smooth, but the next two months aren’t guaranteed to stay that way.
A highlight is the friendly faces they meet in road breaks.
“I’ve never been to West Texas, and they’re really wonderful here,” said Christy Goldberg, a senior nursing major. “A lot of them will pull us over and tell us their story and how much they appreciate us.”
But the cyclists wish they didn’t have a reason for the trip.
“We need to end it,” Goldberg said, describing the cancer that took both her grandmother and her father a few years ago. “We need to wipe it out. It shouldn’t even be in our vocabulary.”
Tatalovich remembers his own diagnosis of stage 2 Ewing’s sarcoma in May 2013. The then-17-year-old felt panic, followed by determination.
“It’s a natural and universal response to be scared; I think that’s part of it,” he said. “I sort of put blinders on that I was gonna fight this. I wasn’t gonna let this disease take anything away from me.”
He underwent months of chemotherapy and a hip-replacement surgery, then intense physical therapy. He gradually learned to walk without a cane. Meanwhile, while finishing high school in his hometown of Las Vegas, he visited the Longhorns’ campus for the first time. The trip contained an introduction to a new friend, Mark, who rode in the 2014 Texas 4000 team.
Tatalovich was instantly sold on the idea of boosting his health enough to someday join the 4,000+-mile journey.
“It was the perfect match,” he said. “A lot of the mission fell in line.”
Other riders have friends or family members devastated by cancer.
Ride director Matthew Schneider, for instance, was drawn in honor of his father; Robert Schneider, who died of prostate cancer in spring 2014.
“Now I ride to share his story, honor his memory and to support others in the same way they supported me and my family,” Matthew said.