Fight to the Finish

The Texas 4000 charity bike ride is celebrating 10 years of raising money for cancer research and building a support system of UT students, alumni, and survivors all across the country.

In 2008, when Lance Pyburn, BS, BBA ’11, first signed up to ride his bike from Texas to Alaska, fighting cancer was just a worthy cause, not an urgent personal goal. But a few months later, Pyburn’s aunt, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away in just four days. In January 2009, his ride year, Pyburn’s grandmother was diagnosed with stomach, liver, and colon cancer. Suddenly—just as he was about to ride more than 4,500 miles to help conquer the disease—cancer was hitting home.

Five years later, Pyburn is the program director for the Texas 4000, a 70-day ride that takes University of Texas students on an epic and impossible-sounding cycling adventure. The ride covers twice the distance of the Tour de France, and participants bike at elevations of up to 14,000 feet. Now celebrating its 10th year, the organization has raised more than $4 million and is bigger than ever. In previous years there were two routes: Sierra, which leads through the Northwest through California, Washington, and British Columbia; and Rockies, which goes through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. This year, an Ozarks route was added through Missouri, Illinois, and up to North Dakota to accommodate a total of 69 riders.

AFM 2“[With the Ozark route] we are hitting a new part of the country that we’ve never talked to,” Pyburn says. “It’s been really awesome and rewarding to introduce them to our mission for the first time.”

Riders experience the incomparable beauty of North America—traveling through scorching deserts, high mountain passes, and along breathtaking coastlines. Beginning in the fall, the riders start training, fundraising, reaching out to the community, and organizing the logistics of their trip.

At several stops around the country, UT alumni gathered to show support and spread the word about the charity ride in their communities. When the Ozarks riders hit Missouri in June, the St. Louis Chapter of the Texas Exes welcomed them with a barbecue and spirited rendition of “The Eyes of Texas.” As they rolled through Atherton, Calif., Shannon Fallon, BBA ’85, and Tom Fallon BS ’83, MBA ’85, Life Members, members of the Bay Area Network, opened their home to the riders and several members of the Texas Exes for more barbecue and some much-appreciated Shiner beer. In Seattle, 22 riders on the Sierra route were welcomed by members of the Puget Sound Network and treated to breakfast to help them refuel. At each event the riders stand up one by one to share their heart-wrenching stories and personal journeys. Some riders, like Houston native Bucky Ribbeck, are cancer survivors themselves.

But the biggest celebration always comes at the end of the road, and all roads on the Texas 4000 lead to Anchorage, Alaska. Cathy Foerster, BS ’77, Life Member, a member of the Texas Exes Alaska Chapter, knows that the last moments of the ride can be intense for all involved. “By the time they get to this event, “she says, “there are so many emotions going through their heads: I can’t believe I made it. I can’t believe my mom and dad are here.”

Over time, the UT community in Alaska has figured out the best way to honor their fellow Longhorns. “We just stay in the background,” Foerster says. “We provide them with the support they need to celebrate all of the emotions they are feeling. It’s not about us, it’s about them.” Chapter members create signs for each rider and give them a very warm Texas welcome—far away from home.

The Alaska Chapter also creates a feast of native delights for the weary travelers and their proud friends and family. The menu for this year included blueberry muffins, rhubarb pies, reindeer sausage, halibut tacos, and even bear chili.

McBride5Each year the mayor proclaims the day of their arrival “Texas 4000 Day,” and this year the Alaska Legislature unanimously signed a citation acknowledging the riders for their work in the fight against cancer.

“The kids are awesome,” Foerster says. “These are just beautiful people.”

After 10 years, the organization has learned a lot. “The biggest lesson is that every single person is affected by this disease in some capacity,” Pyburn says. “Whether they are a college student who doesn’t know what they want to do with their lives or a supporter along one of our routes—we try to serve as the unifying force.”

Valerie Do and the Sierra route riders at the Texas Exes event in Atherton; rider Rene Castro on the Ozarks route; the Rockies riders in McBride, British Columbia.

Photos courtesy Olivia Smartt, Chris Parker, and Mayte Salazar.


Tags: , , , , , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment