Texas 4000 rides into North Battleford


The long journey from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska of a group of young cyclists spreading a message about combating cancer made their way to North Battleford on the weekend.

The Texas 4000 for Cancer cycling team arrived from Saskatoon Sunday and stayed at Don Ross Centre overnight before resuming their route towards Edmonton and onwards the next morning.

The stop in North Battleford was day 44 of the riders’ journey. The group of 27 riders are cycling on what is called the “Ozarks” route, a route that takes them through the middle west of the United States in states such as Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota before entering into Manitoba.

There were 71 riders in total, all undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Texas at Austin, who started their journey May 30 in Austin before splitting off into three separate teams on three different routes. One of those groups goes through California while the other heads through the Rockies.

Eventually they will all meet up again in Whitehorse, Yukon for their final stretch en route to Anchorage. They separate the routes in order to reach as many people as they can.

The mission is a dual one: to develop student leaders and to fight against cancer,

Jose Dominguez, a senior who is finishing up his two degrees this fall at the University of Texas, says the 70-day bike ride is the “cornerstone” event for the organization, but in fact it is a culmination of a journey of a couple of years, as they first applied to join in 2013.

“From the moment we were accepted to now is an 18-month process,” said Dominguez. “Everything that we do on the ride is basically student-handled. We plan our own ride, we met and organized our own hosts.”

He noted one of their students had contacted Don Ross Arena months earlier to arrange to stay there for the night.

A program team was organized to give educational presentations on cancer prevention and awareness.

As well, each one of them was required to raise $4,500 and train a minimum of 1,500 miles and volunteer a minimum of 50 hours in the community.

“It’s a lot of work but it really pays off because then we get to go on this incredible journey over the summer and talk to individuals along the way and share our mission,” said Abigail Zeitler, originally from Indiana, who will be a senior at the University of Texas next year.

“And then they also share their stories with us, which we carry on the bikes with us each day.”

She explains the riders carry ride dedications from people they meet, who would ask them to ride for a certain person who has either died from cancer or is currently fighting it.

“Every day before we ride we stand in a big circle and give ride dedications for the day and say  ‘this is the person we’re going to ride for today, this is their story.’ And these stories are why we’re fighting.”

Dominguez’s involvement in Texas 4000 is inspired by his aunt, a survivor of multiple myeloma.

Zeitler said she joined because her mother is a cancer survivor and she had two friends who are cancer survivors.

“But along the way I’ve met more than one or two people in each city that have also shared their stories with me,” said Zeitler.

“And so that makes it more meaningful what we are doing each and every day and shows us that the fight is so much larger than our individual reasons and individual team. It’s spread all over the country and all over the world.”

What sets the Texas 4000 organization apart is that while other cancer organizations focus their efforts on the science and research end, they fill the need on the human side.

“We, unlike a lot of cancer-fighting organizations, actually meet communities where they are,” said Dominguez.

He gave an example of a single woman in Minnesota who “might not have anyone to talk to about what she’s been through and what she’s going through. But we went to Thief River Falls and we met with people from the community and they were able, for maybe the first time in a long time, really talk about what they went through with us.”

Their organization’s mission is to stop and hear the personal stories of those fighting cancer, and to share those stories with others.

“It’s very easy to forget the humanity and the reality of the lives that cancer patients and cancer survivors are living,” said Dominguez.

As for their time so far in Canada, they admitted the weather is “hotter than I expected,” said Zeitler.

Dominguez, however, grew up in Houston area, which is known for being incredibly hot and humid. He said right now it’s in the upper 30s – lower 40s C there with 80 per cent humidity.

“So waking up and it being in the 20s was fantastic,” said Dominguez.

As for Canadians themselves, he noted his team got caught in a rainstorm on the way from Saskatoon, and a gentlemen was “waving us down, just because he saw us and wanted to get us out of the rain.”

They ended up chatting with the farm couple inside a garage while waiting out the storm.

“They brought coffee, they brought strawberry shortcake out of nowhere,” said Dominguez. “I could not speak more highly of the generosity we’ve been shown by the Canadian people.”

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