Biking for change

11707408_10206469400709164_8398608759566348462_nThree JMU Dukes participated in a cross-country bike ride to raise funds and awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund. Today JMU communications intern Rachel Petty (’17) tells their story…..

Biking for Change

By Rachel Petty (’17)

Tornadoes, blown out tires and skinned knees didn’t stop three JMU Dukes from biking over 4000 miles from Baltimore to Portland, Oregon, as part of the Ulman Cancer Fund’s 4K for Cancer program.

Lizzy Powell, a 2015 alumna, along with Hannah Kotarski (’16) and Jessie Axsom (’16), both current seniors, departed for their 70-day journey on May 31 from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. The girls each had their own motives for going, but their collective perseverance and compassion — two of 4K for Cancer’s core values — guided them through this trek across the United States.

Hannah, Lizzy, and Jessie along the road during their 4,000 mile journey

Hannah, Lizzy, and Jessie along the road during their 4,000 mile journey

“I’m biking across the country this summer to convey this sense of community to those currently battling cancer,” Lizzy said before her ride. “I want to bring hope to all the different people we meet, share their stories and ride in their honor.” The Ulman Cancer Fund’s main goal is to create a community of support for young adults and their loved ones as they fight cancer and embrace survivorship.

Too many young adults are diagnosed with cancer and may feel lost, isolated or hopeless. “Those affected whether the patient, family member, or friend, should not have to go through the challenge alone,” Hannah said.

Through visiting hospitals, taking part in community events and giving awareness presentations, the girls provided a shoulder to lean on for many cancer patients.

“I, as well as most of my peers, have had friends, family, and teammates whose lives have been destroyed by cancer,” Jessie shared. “In the wake of this destruction, however, I have also witnessed incredible examples of hope, strength, faith and bravery.”

The continuous growth of that hope and bravery is vital in a support network. While facing challenges of their own, the girls were able to foster that growth and truly make a difference in the lives of young adults and other cancer patients across the country.

The girls began their typical days at about 4 a.m. and shared the names of the people who their rides would be dedicated to that day. The names of those people guided them through whatever hardships they would face that day, including darkness, rain and brutally cold temperatures.

visiting_cancer_patient“These kids truly endured many trials and challenges on this trip,” said Theresa Garrison, Lizzy’s aunt and a JMU employee. “Bike wrecks, broken bikes, skinned knees, saddle sores, exhaustion, nowhere to sleep, no food, no shower, lightening, pouring rain and uphill uphill uphill climbs – these are just a few of the challenges they had to deal with.” There was even a day that the group could not bike into Des Moines, Iowa, since tornados and hail were in the area.

In addition to the difficulties they faced, the girls also had some extremely satisfying moments. “On the flip side – there is the reward – visiting cancer patients, handing out scholarships to cancer patients, meeting many new people along the way, seeing the beautiful country and being part of a team,” Theresa adds.

When the girls rode into Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, to end their trip on August 8, they were overcome with emotions. “Although we were all excited to see our families waiting for us in Washington Park, none of us was ready for the trip to be over,” Jessie said. “I think if given the opportunity most of us would have chosen to keep biking. So it was a very weird mix of excitement and accomplishment, but also sadness and anxiety.”

The girls will recall the memories they made and the people they impacted for a lifetime. “One really cool aspect of our trip was that every time we would stop on the side of a road for a break or at a gas station to get coffee, strangers would ask who we were and what we were doing,” Hannah said. “After we told them our story, they had nothing but more questions and [wanted] to tell us about their own personal cancer stories. People would ask us to ride for their friends and family and would give us monetary donations to keep us going.”

Cancer may live on, but these three Dukes proved that it doesn’t have to take over a person’s life. “I wanted to inspire and help those facing this lifelong journey with cancer as we embarked on ours,” Lizzy said.

And that’s exactly what they did.

4kforcancer_JMU[2]“As one of my teammates said, when we dipped our tires in the Pacific together we knew we would never be the same,” Lizzy added. “The sights we saw and more importantly the people we met along the way were what made it the epic journey that it was.”

Rachel Petty (’17) is a junior Media Arts & Design major from Oakland, New Jersey. She is striving to become a journalist for either print or online media and is currently working as a Public Affairs Intern for JMU. In her free time, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, and traveling.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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