Hold fast to dreams!

I’m going to start this (SUPER LONG) post with a few lines from my favorite poem, “Dreams” by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

I can remember the exact moment in time when I first read this poem. I was a junior in high school and even though I was in a hurry to finish my homework, those four lines stuck with me. But until I joined the Illini 4000, I was never able to fully grasp what those four lines actually meant. This organization was created by just a dream, a dream to raise funds for cancer research and a dream to document the American cancer experience. Over a period of just five years, supporters of this dream have helped us donate extremely large amounts of money to ACS and Camp Kesem, and they have also allowed us to record their stories for the Portraits Project. So if we can do all of that in just five years, imagine what we can do in the next five years if we allow our dreams to grow. I’m really excited to find out.

I feel so fortunate to be able to ride with the Illini 4000 again. Seriously, it’s hard to eloquently express what it means to be able to do this ride again. The members of this year’s team are so committed to our cause, have great enthusiasm, and continue to raise the bar for future teams to come. I am particularly excited about the strides we can take with the Portraits Project this summer.

On April 2, we had our first official training ride and a Portraits Project gallery exhibit. This ride was really special because so many I4K alumni joined us! The first half of the ride was smooth sailing—we had a tailwind all the way to Homer Lake. On our way back, we hit some Illinois “hills” and had a pretty strong headwind. This was a pretty tough ride and I am so proud of the new riders for staying positive!

As for the Portraits exhibit, it’s hard for me to put into words what this exhibit means to me, the founders, the alumni, the current team, and our supporters. That whole night was a very beautiful experience for me and I am so happy that we shared the Portraits Project with so many people, 124 people to be exact! With the help of Mary Russell and members of the Portraits committee, this event was a huge success. We were able to show the original 2007 Portraits, along with one Portrait from each ride year so far (2008-2010). We also provided a cancer information presentation, along with some pamphlets from ACS.

Throughout the night, I couldn’t help but think about one of the Portraits I did last summer with a few other ladies on the 2010 team. We were riding through Greencastle, Indiana, and all of us had to go to the bathroom so we decided to give a floral shop called Ambler Hill a try. I asked the woman behind the counter if we could use her bathroom, and she asked, “What are you riding for?” Before I could answer, she said, “You’re riding for me. I’m a breast cancer survivor.” That left all of us speechless. Not only did this woman, Karen Ambler, let 7 dirty and sweaty cyclists use her bathroom, she also shared her cancer experience with us. We ate a wonderful lunch (that was kindly donated to us) and rode the next 15 miles or so in silence because we were so amazed and inspired by this woman. It took a bee sting to break our silence!

Last semester, myself and 3 other riders had some free time at the beginning of the year so we went to visit Karen. It was so surreal. We were driving a car on roads we could remember so clearly, but roads we probably would have never seen in our lifetime if we hadn’t decided to bike across the country. We walked in and Karen was just as friendly as the first time we met her. We told her who we were (we were dressed up and not dirty or sweaty, so she didn’t recognize us) and then we all started crying. It was such a great thing, to reconnect with a stranger that changed our lives. So in my opinion, that’s one of the beautiful things about the Portraits Project, you meet people that are willing to share their stories with you and those stories change your life for the better. They encourage you to be brave in the fight against cancer and to continue to pay it forward.

There are still a few things I need to do to prepare for the ride this summer. I need some new bike shorts (don’t want to get a hole in my shorts like KTL… that’s anonymous enough, right? CPFL!), a better frame pump, and most importantly, some new cycling shoes. My current shoes have caused some toe problems. Today the mysterious case of my toe problems was resolved (I had 2 hematomas) by removing 1.5 of my toenails. Yikes. Haha. Sorry for anyone I’ve grossed out. But don’t worry, it was instant relief and really wasn’t too painful. Life lesson: if your toes look kind of funny and that funnyness doesn’t go away, get it checked out. But seriously, this life lesson relates to all health problems, not just toe ones. So I am going to do a better job of listening to my body in the future and I hope all of you do too. It’s important!

We have our second training ride tomorrow and I’m so excited. I picked up some snacks and I am sipping on some Gatorade right now. I need to pump my tires and I really need to buy a new chain. I also need to sleep.

Goodnight amazing supporters of the Illini 4000.

P.S. Since Karen is a breast cancer survivor, I’m going to share some information about breast cancer. According to the ACS’ Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures 2010, “breast cancer screening has been shown to reduce breast cancer mortality. In the US, death rates from breast cancer in women have been declining since 1990, due in part to early detection by mammography screening and improvements in treatment. Currently, 60% of breast cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the five-year survival rate if 98%. Further reductions in breast cancer death rates are possible by improving regular use of mammography screening and providing timely access to high-quality follow-up treatment.”


So please listen to the ACS and to Karen: “You know, my daughter, I’m very concerned for her. Her doctor would not give her a mammogram until she was 40. I think this is something that needs to stop. People younger than you girls are coming down with breast cancer or some form of cancer. And they will find a cure to this, I’m sure they will. But until then, I cannot stress enough getting a mammogram.”

Comments (2)
  • Mary Russell Mary Russell says:

    I am SO proud of you for everything you have done this past year and for the leadership and wisdom you offer the new team.

    Ride on Gabrielle. May all your dreams explode.

  • Katie Lindsay Katie Lindsay says:

    We are so lucky to have you on the ride again, Gabrielle! You are both motivational and calming, which is unbelievably helpful to all of us newbies. I can’t wait to spend this summer embarking on this journey with you!

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