When it came time to do their part to raise awareness about the research and treatments for pediatric cancer at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research in Seattle, four young people from Bainbridge Island recently went the extra mile.
In fact, they went 3,000 of them.
Two Bainbridge Island high school sophomores and two Washington State University students biked to the finish line of the grueling Race Across America event late last month, completing the race as the year’s youngest four-person team in just seven days, 12 hours and five minutes.
The team consisted of BHS students Matias Francis and Lucas Weyand and WSU students Meghan Camp and Lydia Weyand. They were led by crew chief David Stiles, and supported by crew members Reid Camp, Steve Francis, Daryl Peloquin, Brandon Strickland, Kris Van Gieson, Kathleen Weyand and Tim Weyand.
“Race Across America is known as the ‘world’s toughest bicycle race’ because teams ride 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland non-stop,” explained team spokesman Kurt Bedell. “This year the race got some notoriety because Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, was a rider on one of the teams that competed.”
Any celebrities in the ride, however, were forced to relinquish center stage to the awareness-raising efforts of Race Across America - Team Ben Towne Foundation, who have as of this writing raised more than $80,000 for the Seattle-based charity.
“The team rode to generate awareness about and raise money for Ben Towne Foundation,” Bedell explained. “The center’s mission is to speed up the creation of new, non-invasive treatments for pediatric cancer, the leading cause of childhood death by disease.”
Rider Lucas Weyand said that the distance did not deter Team Ben Towne Foundation.
“The Race Across America was an experience of a lifetime,” Weyand said. “We rode 3,000 miles non-stop relay style. Our crew kept us safe, fed and motivated 24 hours a day throughout the race.”
“We had our challenges along the route, but managed to maintain an overall pace of just over 16 miles per hour. It was incredible,” he said.
Fellow cyclist Matias Francis agreed.
“It was as difficult as I thought it would be,” Francis said.
Francis also said that the route was especially difficult in places he did not expect it to be, like Kansas.
“I thought Kansas and the flat parts of the race would be easier, but they were harder because it would get repetitive. Nothing would change for 500 miles.”
To be sure, nobody wakes up and decides to bike across the country without a previous love of the sport, and the Bainbridge-based team was no exception.
“In the case of these riders, they were excited to participate because many of them bike for pleasure or in racing,” Bedell explained. “They’re all serious riders. They decided to participate in the race, and then they decided who they would benefit with their participation,”
Both Bedell and the riders praised the work of the team’s crew, who labored intensely to keep the riders on the road.
“The crew did a spectacular job,” Bedell said. “Two riders are on for a few hours at time on secondary roads; day, night, the heat, rain. You really rely very critically on that crew. I think [crew members] got an average of two hours of sleep a night. They were really burning the candle at both ends.”
“We had a great crew,” agreed Weyand. “They worked really hard for us.”
The road-weary team celebrated their homecoming earlier this month by setting off on one last trip together: riding in the Fourth of July parade in downtown Winslow.
“The idea of the race was to raise awareness as well as then to complete it,” Francis said of the team’s mission. He remembered feeling some anxiety before the actual ride began, but none once they were on the road.
“I think that once the ride began, unless a total catastrophe happened, we knew we would make it,” he said. “But before you begin and get a sense of how you’re doing, there is definitely some uncertainty.”
The team is planning a race recap and celebration event in September that will be open to the public.
The Seattle-based Ben Towne Foundation was founded in 2010 in memory of Ben Towne, who died of neuroblastoma at the age of three. The foundation exists to accelerate the pace of childhood cancer research toward cures.
100 percent of proceeds to Ben Towne Foundation support research accomplished at Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
The team was sponsored locally by Windermere Real Estate Bainbridge Island, Stratacore, ADAPTlabs, Grace Episcopal Church, Royal Bluff Ochards and ANOVA.
For more information, visit www.raamteambtf.org or www.facebook.com/RAAMteamBTF.