by Chris Brewer
75 riders and staff from Team LIVESTRONG joined over 24,000 bike riders on a 406 mile trip across Iowa, better known as RAGBRAI. The team event is one part fundraiser, raising over $132,000 for the LIVESTRONG Foundation mission of helping people with cancer, right now. But just as important, it’s an opportunity to bond for a week with a very diverse group of people who all have some form of cancer connection. Much like life, RAGBRAI is a journey.
RAGBRAI is the largest multi-day cycling event in the world, celebrating its 41st edition, and the 7th time Team LIVESTRONG has participated in the west to east crossing of Iowa. In its most basic form, you wake up, ride a while, stop, eat/drink, ride a while, stop, eat/drink, set up camp, and repeat for a week. Some people use RAGBRAI as an annual family vacation, others will create important charitable and service causes like The Dream Team and Team Air Force, and yes others will focus on the more “social” nature of RAGBRAI. One of the key parts of the event week is that it is definitely not a race, riders having about 10 hours a day to complete the 60-70 mile stages and enjoy the hospitality of the many pass-through towns – and maybe a giant slip and slide or two along the way!
Team LIVESTRONG certainly embraces the RAGBRAI culture, but also realizes that this team is not your average group of people on bikes. We start to get to know each other through social media and email as the riders work to raise their funds, sharing stories of success and ideas to help them achieve their goals. But from the moment they arrive in camp the day before the ride starts, to the final grateful tears and hugs goodbye at the Mississippi River, the team experience ensues.
Whether it’s helping a teammate set up his/her tent after a long ride, riding out in small groups to experience the day together on the road, or heading out to the beer garden for nightly music in “our” spot (front left, looking at the stage, FYI), Team LIVESTRONG is always looking out for its own.
But the real magic happens when we take the time to share our stories – this is when the true bonding occurs. For us, this mainly happens one on one while on the road, often starting with just simple questions such as, “Where are you from?” and “Why did you join the team?” Every night we host a casual Happy Hour where stories from the road are shared, as well as individuals coming forward to tell their personal cancer experiences and how the LIVESTRONG Foundation has played a significant role.
And then there are the unexpected stories from other riders who have used LIVESTRONG Foundation services that will literally ride up and say a heartfelt “Thank You!” Two significant ones I recall were when a woman in her 20’s came up to me and said, “Thank you. I had cancer a couple of years ago, and thanks to the Foundation I will now be able to have a family.” She had used our Fertile Hope program services. There was also a father who told me he used to always wear our yellow wristband, but he stopped seven years ago. When I asked why, he raised his jersey sleeve and showed me his LIVESTRONG Foundation tattoo, telling me that his son was then diagnosed with brain cancer, and how important the Foundation had been helping their family. Two years ago, when his now teenage son celebrated five years of survivorship, he got a matching tattoo as well.
RAGBRAI is a great big bike ride filled with pie, pork chops, the incredible hospitality of the Iowa people, and should be on every cyclist’s bucket list. But for the 75 people on Team LIVESTRONG it was much, much more – it was indeed an amazing journey that created relationships and memories that will last a lifetime. As we already look ahead to 2014 and beyond we’d love for you to be a part of this amazing experience, so please check out www.teamlivestrong.org and think about joining us in Iowa in July. And to this year’s team and all our alumni, THANK YOU for all you do!