Forgetting about the bike

I graduated on Saturday. The ceremony was long, and I knew almost nobody there. There are just under 80 students majoring in Physics or Engineering Physics, and I have met perhaps a handful of them. So while I sat in my seat, it became painfully apparent just how little I fit in with this physics crowd. Physics coursework has clearly not been the center of my attention over these past four years.

I do not mean to say that I received poor grades; that certainly was not the case. What I do mean is that my efforts on behalf of the Illini 4000 have proven to play a significant role during my time at UIUC. From Quad Day before my freshman year through this coming summer adventure, this organization has surrounded (literally) the entirety of my undergraduate degree.

Clearly I stick around for a reason. More than one reason, perhaps.

I want to begin with my talk at TEDxUIUC. Thanks to David Sher for connecting with that, I finally found the stage to share my passion for this incredible organization. In only 17 minutes, I tried to convey 4 years worth of learning, biking, fighting, and understanding. Those of you with whom I’ve discussed the event know just how challenging that speech was to write. And then to hold on to it for a week as I rehearsed it, I was exhausted.

This story is about losing my father at a very young age and then coming into this organization to learn that cancer does the same thing to just so many other people. And these people move on, and I walk past them as I buy my groceries and as I bike between classes. They sit next to me in the library and they’re in the front of the room teaching quantum mechanics. They move on not because they want to, but because they must. The pains of cancer extend much beyond the discomfort of the treatments, but they are always emotional, physical, and almost every time they sit just beneath the surface.

As a result of me telling my story, I have been given the chance to speak with a number of people, each of which has their own relationship with cancer. They’ll mention they saw my Ted Talk, and then they’ll tell me about their mother, brother, uncle, or grandmother who had a run-in, not unlike my dad’s. These are painful stories to hear, but as we move along on this planet we need to be grounded and connected with those whom we find important. This is the Portraits Project in person, right here. So while these stories are sad and difficult to hear, they bring us together in such a unique and powerful way.

So now that graduation and that talk are out of the way, my focus finally comes back to the bike. I repeatedly forget that people regard us simply as a cycling organization. From where I stand, the biking is the easiest thing in the world. We’ve just spent months juggling fundraising, training, coursework, social lives, and extensive preparations for a cross-country journey. For the next 10 weeks, our job is to get on the bike in the morning and hop off it in the afternoon. Sure, it’s not always comfortable, but even during a century climbing mountains through wind and rain, our job has not changed: we just keep pedaling. When our legs are tired and we want nothing more than a nap and a snack, there is no question to be asked. We keep riding.

We signed up for this, so we signed up to climb every single little hill, cross every headwind, and put on a smile through cold, rainy mornings. Like I always come back to, this summer is not about us; it’s about those fighting cancer, receiving treatment, and those who will one day come to face this challenge. We are not riding because it’s easy, and that inspiration is going to get us from coast to coast. It’s about the people we meet along the way just as much as it is about those who send us off at Union Station on Wednesday.

Comments (1)
  • Debbie Sanders says:

    Holding you and all your teammates in our thoughts and prayers each and everyday!! Go team!! Enjoy the ride. Enjoy each other. Enjoy those you meet along the way.
    Deb, Rob and Ella

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