Texas 4000 team members ride for cancer free future

Rider riding

Texas 4000 riders choose to take the arduous 4,000-mile journey for many reasons, all linked to one common cause — fighting cancer and bringing prevention awareness to everyone they can.

Team Sierra came through Mesquite Wednesday afternoon on their way to Alaska and shared some of their stories that led to their decisions.

Rider Ben Morse has seen cancer in many of his family members; his dad, two grandmothers and more

“My father’s mother had colon cancer around the age of 87,” Morse said. “She ended up beating it and is doing really well now. In fact, she became a nun and is walking again.”

Morse said he’s lucky, with so many family members diagnosed with cancer at one time or another they mostly ended as stories of survival.

Elizabeth Schmidt first saw cancer in a friend of hers who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“To see that Hunter still had a smile on her face and was relentlessly positive” made Schmidt realize it was all about perspective, she said.

She realized her many worries were nothing to someone worrying about whether their next treatment would save their life.

And one thing really bothered her.

“I couldn’t be there for her,” she said.

Her friend’s cancer is now in remission.

When Schmidt heard about Texas 4000, she decided she would do it in honor of her friend.

“To give people like Hunter hope and a chance for a cure is something that should not be taken for granted,” Schmidt said. “These people have stories that can change other people’s lives.”

Teams are made up of graduate or undergraduate students who apply to become a member. Once they’re accepted each one has to raise $4,500 before the ride, said Sierra team member Ben Keeler. Typically the goal is to raise $500,000 for cancer research, education and charity.

This year, however, the goal has changed.

“We totally crushed our goal,” Keeler said. “We’re at more than $550,000 and made a new goal of $600,000.”

Keeler was born in Salt Lake City, lived in Wyoming and Colorado and finally settled in Texas with his family. His dad’s job took him from Texas to Baku, Azerbaijan, a small former Soviet-satellite on the Caspian Sea, then back to Texas again.

When he planned out going to college he wanted to go somewhere other than Texas, but instead chose to stay and go to University of Texas.

“I ride for a cancer free future,” he said.

One of the things team members are sure to do on the trip is stay on top of sunscreen applications, Morse said.

“We can’t be out here, getting sunburned and then say we want people to learn about cancer prevention,” he said. “We apply before we get out into the sun, then every two hours after.”

During the trek to the northern reaches of the United States, each of the three teams stop and talk with people, getting stories of those who have battled the disease.

The riders also take with them from each stop names of cancer victims and recite them while they ride.

When finished, the Sierra team will have ridden through New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, California, Washington and a portion of Canada to reach Alaska.

Riders not only participate in the journey north, their acceptance into the Texas 4000 program is an 18-month commitment of community service and physical and leadership training.

Anyone wanting to give a name or names to a rider doesn’t have to meet up with the Texas 4000 team to do it. Instead, they can call the organization’s office at 512-329-1963 and ask for help reaching a rider.

Donations are also welcome, but not necessarily in the form of cash. The organization relies heavily on in-kind support and team riders can always use extra supplies. Supplies can include gas gift cards, roof racks, camp stoves, Home Depot gift cards, Costco gift card, and even all-purpose soap.

For more information or to donate to the 2014, or the next bike ride in 2015, go to Texas4000.org, or call 512-329-1963.

For anyone wanting updates on the group’s ride, there is an interactive social wall on the site.

by Theresa Worthington