Cy-Fair Grad Reghan Conrey Tackling the Texas 4000
Cy-Fair High School graduate Reghan Conrey, currently a sophomore at the University of Texas, will represent Cy-Fair ISD in the 14th annual Texas 4000, a 70-day bike ride from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK that raises awareness and money for cancer and research.
The event, which features more than 70 riders traveling three distinct routes from Austin to Anchorage, has raised more than $7 million for cancer research, donating to organizations like the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas at Austin Department of Biomedical Engineering and numerous others.
The charity bike ride’s mission appealed to Conrey – enough that she picked up bike riding for the first time in November, in preparation for the event. In the intervening months, Conrey has advanced from her first few wobbly pedals (she learned without training wheels, she laughs) to benchmark, timed 100-mile weekend rides.
That Conrey would take up bicycling for the sole purpose of a grueling, two-month-plus excursion through the western half of the country is a testament to her drive and determination. That she was in a position to care so deeply is a testament to the way small, accidental moments can alter fate, set inexorable, life-defining events in motion, Sliding-Doors-style.
“I accidentally ended up shadowing a neurosurgeon when I was 17,” Conrey said. The sophomore, majoring in chemistry and mathematics, was mistaken for a pre-med college student while still in high school. She was recommended to a prominent figure at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, based on a desire she had to go into research. Somehow, her high-school status was not communicated to her host.
“I wanted to do research for a long time, and my mom’s friend was like, ‘I dated this guy, and he’s the head of neurosurgery at M.D. Anderson, and he’ll get you into these labs,'” Conrey said. “I show up, and this guy totally misunderstands what I’m there for, and it’s like, ‘your scrubs are over there; I’ll meet you in the O.R.”
Suddenly, Conrey found herself in an operating room observing brain surgery. As the impromptu internship unfolded, Conrey shadowed and observed him in surgery, in a clinic environment and throughout his rounds for more than a month. Her host was never the wiser and she began to fall in love with the field. What was initially a case of mistaken identity turned into a lifelong pursuit and passion.
“I just never told him that’s not what I came for,” Conrey said. “At first, I didn’t want to rock the boat. But then I really started enjoying it, and I never told him. I still haven’t told him. We keep in touch and he has no idea.”
The mistake was simple enough to make – Conrey looked and acted like any other curious pre-med student in a similar situation. She had intended to tour some of the research labs on a vague impulse to learn more, and instead, she fell into the pre-med route, which in turn led to the Texas 4000.
“Pre-med students do this thing where they just follow doctors around to see what it’s like,” Conrey said. “I think he thought I was there for that, but I wasn’t pre-med at the time. Now I am, and the M.D. Anderson thing is why I decided to do Texas 4000, too.”
The Texas 4000 riders are a diverse, eclectic bunch, but they share an important commonality. They ride for a reason. The first Texas 4000 was a more personal journey, when UT student and Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor Chris Condit and a handful of friends made the trek, envisioning the lengthy bike ride as a metaphor for the struggle against cancer, a charitable sign of solidarity that could simultaneously unite hearts and minds while raising funds for research and items like palliative care and services aimed at those fighting cancer.
Consequently, everyone rides for a reason. Some have lost family members and significant others. Some, like Conrey, became acquainted with cancer through the wider world, but the experience is no less jarring or impactful. Conrey’s serendipitous early exposure to the world of medicine and research through her accidental internship put her in cancer’s path numerous times, and those moments stuck with her.
“I got really up close and personal with cancer and what it does,” Conrey said. “I saw some things that are going to stay with me for the rest of my life. When you go and see really intimate moments between a doctor and a patient, talking about cancer – I was in the room when a family found out their mom only had six months to live.”
When Conrey heard about the Texas 4000 and saw what it represented – a chance to mitigate some of the infuriating helplessness that surrounds the fight against cancer – she jumped at the opportunity. Despite never having operated a bicycle before, she now couldn’t not ride.
“It was a lot,” Conrey said. “But then I heard about Texas 4000 and thought about my experiences. And how do I not do something, if I’m of able body and sound mind? I just decided to pick it up.”
As Conrey has progressed in her training regimen, now up to one or more informal weekday bikes a week plus a progressively longer Saturday ride that is now well past the 100-mile mark, her financial contribution has grown accordingly. As of this writing, Conrey is about 85 percent of the way towards her $4,500 with about a month left to secure donations.
Though the Texas 4000 bike ride is a singular, annual event, the organization is a year-round commitment, and one that has already enriched Conrey’s college experience considerably, even before the ride, itself.
“I think it’s shaped me in a lot of different ways,” Conrey said. “That might partially be because I’ve never done a lot of athletic stuff, never pushed myself physically. It’s a lot of people who are great leaders around campus. You make some of the best friends you’ll ever have.”
The Texas 4000 acts as a sort of community, gathering together the best and brightest from a diverse collections of fields, unified by the common goal of fighting cancer.
The organization also represents the sort of next-level opportunities that can ultimately define a student’s collegiate experience. Parents and community members can support Conrey by pledging for her ride, but UT-bound high school students in the area can potentially become a part of the organization and participate, themselves.
“I would definitely recommend it to anyone,” Conrey said. “It’s helped me grow in a lot of ways. I would encourage people to look at UT for this reason, because there are a lot of opportunities like this here.”
You can learn more about Texas 4000 by visiting their website, http://www.texas4000.org and you can donate directly to Reghan Conrey’s ride at http://www.texas4000.org/rider/2017/sierra/reghan-conrey/
Written by: Kevin Cook
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