Bicyclists pedal across Golden Gate Bridge to fight cancer
Michael Tatalovich is bicycling for more than 4,500 miles with a replacement hip to fight the disease that nearly killed him.
Matthew Schneider is pedaling the same distance to build hope and support around the disease that killed his father.
They are among 66 bicyclists making an extraordinary journey from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, by bicycle this summer to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer — and on Friday, their pedaling took them across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The team is part of Texas 4000, a University of Texas program that sends students on the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. Their goal is to bring down the whopping statistic of more than 1.5 million Americans affected by the deadly disease every year, and for those doing the pedaling the subject is anything but objective. They all have personal tales to tell.
“I ride for my dad who was diagnosed with cancer in 2014,” Schneider said Friday, as he readied his gear for the ride across the bridge. “I identify with hope … because I see what it has done for other people and what it did for my dad.”
Schneider put it this way in his Texas 4000 profile: “The way that my dad faced the situation with optimism, tolerance, and patience is a testament to his character and the power of the human spirit to endure unfortunate circumstances brought about by cancer. Every time I put my feet into pedals I move forward with him in my heart.”
Three bicycling groups are involved, including one traveling through the Rocky Mountains and one through the Ozark Mountains. The third, a group of 24 cyclists who have been going through the Southwest and up the Pacific Coast, is the one that made this week’s short stop in San Francisco.
That group, dubbed the Sierra Route, gathered Friday morning at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center for the start of its 35th day of the 70-day trip. The plan was to complete a 90-mile ride north across the Golden Gate and on to a campground at Fort Ross Historic State Park near Jenner in Sonoma County.
At 7 a.m. the cyclists, wearing orange spandex shirts that read “Fighting Cancer Every Mile,” unpacked their bikes from the back of a large white van, which had held them overnight. They then formed a circle overlooking the bay as fog rolled in over the bridge. As per daily tradition on the ride, each cyclist in the circle took a turn sharing the names of the people who motivate them to ride each day.
“Talking about them each morning motivates us,” Schneider said. “It helps us get back out on the saddle.”
‘Journey of personal healing’
A 23-year-old senior at University of Texas, Schneider is the Sierra Route ride director, and he said the trip is tough. All the bicyclists had to go through a full year of training and complete 2,000 practice miles before participating. Schneider said the group has averaged about 70 miles per day, through areas of blistering heat and freezing cold.
“This is some of the coolest weather,” he said while mist and wind whipped his face. “I just hope it’s not too foggy.”
The group made it to San Francisco on Thursday night, and went to a banquet in Atherton for fundraising and to give a talk about cancer. Cyclists stop along the way like that to raise money for cancer-related causes, give grants to needy organizations, and give presentations on cancer prevention and early detection.
“It’s about giving back and building support and awareness,” Schneider said. “We are biking, but we are not a cycling-centric organization. We do it for the cause, for fighting cancer.”
Tatalovich is a 20-year-old junior at University of Texas, and he joined the ride this year as a way to fight back against the cancer that nearly took his life.
“I was diagnosed with cancer when I was just 17 years old,” he said. His rare, pediatric bone cancer led to weeks of chemotherapy treatments and, ultimately, the replacement of his left femur and hip. Three years later, his cancer is in remission, but his fight with the disease continues.
“For me, it’s been a journey of personal healing and trying to find closure in that ‘cancer-patient’ mind-set of my life,” he said. “This is me proving to myself that I am a survivor and that I can do other things.”
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