A Trial of Tears and Joy: 4,700-Mile Cancer-Fighting Bike Trek Nears End for Chickasaw
VANCOUVER, British Columbia—Cancer’s ultimate victory came calling just when a 20-year-old Chickasaw woman was waging war to defeat it.
Sierra Welch was a few days into a grueling 4,700-mile bicycle trek from Austin to Anchorage when the devastating news arrived.
Her boyfriend, Drew Herbort, relayed the unthinkable—his grandmother, Omie, was gone. The breast cancer she valiantly battled proved too aggressive and too tenacious. The family set upon the agonizing task of funeral preparation.
The University of Texas senior accepted the news from afar, disheartened, saddened and very conflicted. She struggled to decide whether to stay on the road or abandon the effort.
Her emotional turmoil was not necessary.
It wasn’t time to stop and grieve, the Herbort family told her, it was time to ride, forcefully and with renewed determination, in honor of Omie’s memory and a hat doff to Sierra’s own brother who survived an especially vicious form of cancer 26 years earlier.
Finding peace amid anguish
Sierra found solace in the Texas 4000 Summer Ride, the longest annual charity bike ride in the world to raise cash for scientists toiling to discover that elusive lethal cocktail to obliterate cancer.
“I talked to Drew and his family. They wanted me to stay on the ride and continue. It was really, really difficult not to go home and be with the family. Before she passed, I was sending her pictures of my trip daily,” Sierra recalled. “And even though I wanted to be at the funeral more than anything, I knew by staying on the ride, I was doing the next best thing to honor her memory,” she added.
Sierra’s father represented the Welch family at the Fredericksburg funeral.
Rolling up the Contributions
Sierra and other Texas 4000 riders surpassed the initial contribution goal of $250,000 before any of them put foot to pedal to depart Austin.
The bicyclists decided $500,000 seemed like a sound figure to pursue.
When Sierra and her team rested and recouped in Seattle July 13, the half-million dollar goal disappeared as contributions rolled in.
The group then determined $580,000 had a nice ring to it.
As bicyclists chug onward—approximately two days of travel remain—the team has surpassed the $580,000 goal and it looks as if more than $600,000 will be raised when the Anchorage city limit sign looms large at trip’s end.
by Tony Choate