Visiting cyclists fight cancer on two wheels

texas 4000 in lubbock

Andy Escobar is cycling for his grandmother.

Kirby Orosco rides in honor of her stepfather.

Twenty-five Texas 4000 cyclists are about a week into their cross-country cancer fight. And when temperatures soar and energy levels drop, they know the loved ones they’re riding for have faced even harder times.

“Cancer has touched all our lives in some way, shape or form,” Orosco said.

Based in the University of Texas, the student-riders left Austin Saturday. They biked through Cedar Park, Lampassas, Abilene and Snyder before they arrived in Red Raider territory.

But it’s probably safe to say the Longhorn riders have barely gotten started. The rest of their journey will take them west and then north, aiming for an Aug. 8 arrival in Anchorage, Alaska.

They present cancer-prevention educational programs at many of their evening stops along the way, and accept donations for various research and treatment charity projects.

“Our mission is to travel across the country, spreading hope, knowledge and charity,” said rider Anna Scanlon.

Scanlon, an international relations and government major from Washington, D.C., said the struggle participants face when they pedal uphill against heat and wind can give only a glimpse of what cancer patients suffer while fighting for their lives.

“We do the ride because it symbolizes the fight against cancer,” she said.

Nearly all the riders have a personal connection to the deadly disease.

Orosco, for instance, is dedicating her Texas 4000 trip to her stepfather. He’s battling myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer that affects blood cells.

“Doctors told him he only had six months to live, and he beat the odds,” she said.

Escobar, a film major from Cypress, just learned his grandmother was diagnosed with her third bout of breast cancer.

“I’m riding every day for her,” he said.

Ben Keeler holds a leadership role among the riders. The Katy native and Longhorn graduate student cycles in honor of Emily, a 20-year-old friend who’s battled a brain tumor since she was 4.

“She’s beaten the odds,” he said.

Each group of riders begins preparing for the trip about 18 months before they leave. Following an application-and-interview process, once they’re accepted they raise funds and plan logistics of their route and overnight hosts.

In Lubbock, for instance, they stayed at the prearranged site of McPherson Cellars winery.

“The students are responsible for planning 100 percent of the ride,” Scanlon said.

While averaging 85 miles per day, most of the trip is still to come.

The riders are nervous about sweating through summer heat in the Southwest, but excited about some upcoming scenery. They’ll go through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada before they arrive in California and travel north along the Pacific Coast.

“I’m looking forward to going to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle — those are cities I’ve always wanted to go to,” Escobar said.

Keeler, meanwhile, is most enthusiastic about the friendly faces he meets on the road.

“We’ve had to fight some wind and heat, but we’ve gotten to stay with some really wonderful folks,” he said. “That’s why we ride — to interact with people in these communities.”

By Josie Musico