Riding for a cure

Ozarks_Desoto

Photo by Chris Tong

After experiencing some blues and barbecue in Clarksdale, a team of bike riders from the University of Texas rode past the lush, green cotton fields of the North Mississippi Delta en route to Memphis and beyond.

But it wasn’t tourism or sightseeing that brought the group of Longhorns on a northeastern trajectory through the Magnolia State, but rather a passionate, urgent mission to save lives.

In fact, they came through Mississippi on purpose. The trek through the Delta led them to one of the most important cancer research centers in the world, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

After visiting with medical staff and patients at St. Jude, the team, made up of 22 cyclists, once again took to the open road to spread awareness about the need to conquer cancer, one of the leading causes of death in the nation.

During their time in DeSoto County, they were met by host bicycle teams, such as the Slow Pokes Bicycle Club and the Hi-Tailers, along with a few cyclists who have deeply-held personal reasons to support the group riding in the name of cancer awareness and research.

Chris Tong, former Hernando alderman, is a bicycle enthusiast and member of the Slow Pokes. His sister Lisa died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while waiting for a stem cell injection.

“When Lisa was being treated at M.D. Anderson, I was able to go there and experience it,” said Tong, who is employed at Pfizer in Memphis. “There was something special going on at M.D. Anderson. Everybody seemed to care about you.”

It was that same sense of caring that prompted Tong and his four other siblings to get tested to see if any was a stem cell match for Lisa. There were six Tong siblings in all.

Tong flew to M.D. Anderson to allow his stem cells to be extracted but Lisa died before the procedure could be completed. Lisa, then 55, died in 2015.

Since that time, Tong never gave up on helping others beat the disease.

“She battled it for more than a year,” Tong said. “I wanted to help but I wanted to do more than just give money. It’s so easy just to give money.”

So, Tong and other local cycle enthusiasts prepared home-cooked meals, including a lasagna dinner for the Texas cyclists.

“Our experiences here have been nothing but comfort and kindness,” said Patrick Golden, one of the Texas 4000 riders. “The generosity people have showed to us on a daily basis has been phenomenal. We’ve had random strangers who will approach us and give us Gatorade and water.”

While in the Delta, the Texas cyclists stayed overnight at St. Paul Methodist Church.

Tong said deputies from the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department escorted the group down old U.S. Hwy. 61 to the Mississippi state line.

“They really seemed to appreciate the hospitality,” Tong said.

During the ride, the cyclists who comprise the Texas 4000 will spend three months on America’s byways and highways, pedaling from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska in hopes of raising awareness and funds for cancer research and treatment.

Riders spend more than 70 days during the trip and take three routes across the U.S. to reach their destination.

The Texas 4000 ride is the longest annual charity bike ride in the world, according to Golden.

“This year we have a goal of raising $825,000,” Golden said. “We’ve raised over $7 million in 13 years.”

Every year Texas 4000 competitively selects University of Texas students for an 18-month program designed to cultivate the next generation to lead the fight against cancer. Texas 4000 empowers each student to raise $4,500, ride 2,000 training miles with his or her team, volunteer more than 50 hours in the community, and play an active role in planning every aspect of the ride to Alaska by attending weekly meetings and taking leadership positions within the team.

This is the fourth year that the Ozarks route has brought the team through Memphis.

Golden said the Mississippi Delta region and Arkansas are areas where entrenched poverty and lack of cancer awareness contributes to a high mortality rate among those who are diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s important to visit these communities and spread awareness,” Golden said.

Written by: Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

See original article here.