Back to the Basics

I’m excited to be a part of the Illini 4000 team. I really am. I love cycling and can’t wait for the chance to ride in places that aren’t the flat cornfields of the wonderful state of Illinois. Being a guy who loves gear, I’m watching as my teammates are getting their first bikes and ooh-and-aah’ing with them over the attractive paint jobs and beautiful curves of their bicycles. It’s not uncommon for me to daydream about the trip. The beautiful mountains. The salt-crusted jerseys. The unsightly tan lines. The rippling leg muscles.

But wait. With all of this, I’ll admit that I’ve been a little distracted from what Illini 4000 is really trying to accomplish…to fight back against cancer. Sure, this trip will be fun! I’ll be able to ride in new places and do something that I’ll probably never have the time to do once I graduate. But as the spring semester is starting, it’s a perfect time to refocus on what’s important.

Our Director of Fundraising, Kevin, brought this up during our first meeting after winter break. It’s something that has been stirring in my mind for a little while. This realization began over winter break through two things: fundraising and The Portraits Project. Winter break was when I really made a push to fundraise since my previous semester was incredibly busy. I reached out to family members and my parents’ friends and co-workers. While I wasn’t able to interact with many of these people in person, it was through the conversations that I had face-to-face that made an impact. With everybody, there was the initial jaw drop in awe upon hearing about my plan to cycle across the country. But what came after was interesting. Stories of loved ones came up and many displays of appreciation and thankfulness for what the team and I are trying to do. Seeing the reactions of those that have been affected by cancer showed me the significance of what Illini 4000 and other organizations like us are trying to accomplish.

Helping out with the Portraits Project was another eye-opener for me. Before break, I was assigned an interview to watch and had to find helpful messages from the shared stories. As I clicked “play” on the video, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as I started to listen, I was drawn into the stories of hardship and celebration. I’m fortunate to not have had cancer and I don’t think my imagination can come close to trying to understand what a person with cancer is fighting through. But hearing the story, I was able to get a glimpse of what it’s like. When I’m sweating and groaning and my legs are burning from fatigue during the ride, I’ll remember stories that I had the opportunity to hear. Whatever exhaustion I might be feeling as I ride does not compare to what a person affected by cancer has to go through mentally and physically. I’m thankful for The Portraits Project. Being able to interact with the stories and share them… it hit me in a hard way. But in an unexpectedly good way. The fact that I’ve been moved this much by the fundraising and watching the interview makes me anxious for what is to come in May.

As I spend more time around my teammates (through some really tough workouts), I’m really starting to enjoy their presence more and more. They’ve become new friends to me. Along with these new friends, I also think about my family, other friends, and the wonderful community around me and how I enjoy spending time with all of them. I also think about the unfairness of cancer. It takes us by surprise and is relentless. It has affected my family and my close friends. It’s not something that I would want any of the people I love to have to go through.

For me, it is time to go back to the basics. Why am I a part of the Illini 4000 team? I’m doing this for my family. For my friends. For those I don’t even know. Because cancer exists and it’s time to fight back.


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