Cyclists stop by Roseburg on 4,000-mile ride benefiting cancer research

A group of cyclists raising money and awareness for cancer research stopped by the YMCA of Douglas County in Roseburg Tuesday on their way from Texas to Alaska. || Emily Hoard\The News-Review

When Katie Russell of Plano, Texas, rides her bicycle a hundred miles per day through hot, dry deserts and through steep mountain passes, she remembers all her family members who have fought against cancer.

She said cancer has been prevalent among her family members, who have experienced a lot of loss. Her grandmother is currently the oldest living cancer survivor of Brazos County, Texas at 99 years old.

“I have a family of cancer survivors, so I can see that as a negative thing or I can also look at it as a positive, that they’re surviving and have fought and won that battle,” she said.

Russell, 23, is one of 71 students from the University of Texas at Austin who are bicycling through the longest annual charity bike ride in the world — the Texas 4000. They began pedaling in Austin, Texas on June 2 with the goal to ride the 4000-plus miles to Anchorage, Alaska by Aug. 11 to raise funds and awareness for cancer research and treatment centers.

On day 39 of the 70-day-long journey, the cyclists stopped by Roseburg Tuesday evening. They started the day at Crater Lake and rode the 100-plus miles to stay overnight at the YMCA of Douglas County, about 2,300 miles into their trip.

“We started in the desert in well over 100 degrees with super long days,” said Nick Sajatovic, 22, of The Woodlands, Texas. He added the ride has been much better since the group made it to the West Coast, about 2,300 miles into their trip.

Kassidy Knight, 22, of Fort Worth, Texas, said she didn’t have any cycling experience before she joined the Texas 4000 program, but she jumped right in to find herself able to bike through more than 100 miles in one day during an extreme heat wave.

“It’s cool to see how much stronger everyone gets,” Knight said. “I’ve just been having a lot of fun and meeting generous people along the way.”

Russell said waking up at 3:30 in the morning to beat the heat has been rough, but the riders support each other and inspire each other to keep going.

The hardest day, she said, was spent riding 113 miles with a 1,450-foot elevation gain to reach South Lake Tahoe. But once they made it, the group got to enjoy a rest day at the lake.

Through the moments of physical exhaustion, bicycle problems, bad weather and the times of joy, they don’t forget who they’re riding for.

Knight said she lost an uncle to cancer when she was in middle school, and her grandmother died of breast cancer soon after she started college.

Sajatovic said many of his family members have been affected by cancer, and the ride reminds the cyclists their cause is bigger than themselves, especially when given the opportunity to meet people along the bicycle trip who have been affected by cancer

Texas 4000 is an 18-month leadership development program through the University of Texas, Austin. These students started the program in November 2015 and got involved in serving their community. They began training for the bike ride this past school year, starting with 13-to-20-mile rides before ramping it up to over 100-mile rides by April.

During that time, each rider contributed at least 50 community service hours, trained by riding 2,000 miles around Austin, and raised a minimum of $4,500 for cancer research. So far, the group has raised around $680,000.

Gary Williams, branch manager of the YMCA in Roseburg, said it’s a privilege to host the students. The YMCA also hosted the Texas 4000 group two years ago, and he said it was a good experience.

“They’re all riding for someone,” Williams said.

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