Along a treacherous bicycle ride to Alaska, 27 students from the University of Texas at Austin made a pitstop in Lloydminster on Monday evening.
“Every one of us has a story of why they’re here,” said Jawaid Ali, one of the Texas cyclists. “I did it for my close friend, Raheel, who passed away from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I just really wanted to do something for him.”
Each summer, the University of Texas’s Texas 4000 program sends student groups on a bike ride that logs over 4,000 miles - or 6,437 kilometres - from Texas to Alaska and raises hope, knowledge and charity for those that have been affected by cancer.
The program was founded in 2004 by former Texas students Chris and Mandy Condit. Chris survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being diagnosed at age 11. Over a decade later, Texas 4000 travels three groups on three different routes, one of which rolled through the Border City around the two-thirds mark of the 70-day trip.
“It’s safe to say that a lot of us are sore most of the time, but you don’t really think about it,” said Christina Pai, a fellow rider. “Once you’re on the bike, you always focus on the mission. There’s definitely tough moments, but I don’t think there are ever any tough days.”
Upon arriving in Lloydminster on Monday evening, the cyclists were treated to dinner at the Royal Canadian Legion and slept overnight at Lloydminster Comprehensive High School.
Long before any of the riders embarked on the first ride from Cedar Park, Tex. to Lampasas, Tex. nearly 50 days ago, the cyclists endured an 18-month training program and an application process that culminated in an interview.
Individuals also had to raise at least $4,500 prior to the trip, which is nothing short of gruelling, but equally rewarding, says Ali.
“At the end of the day, your teammates are always there for you,” Ali said. “We help each other grow and it really shows you, working as a team you can always accomplish any goals.”
Both Ali and Pai discovered Texas 4000 at their school’s campus. While Ali says he was sold on the opportunity immediately, it took some time for Pai to warm to the idea of going on the longest charity bicycle ride in the world.
“My freshman year of college I saw people handing out flyers. That was my first interaction with Texas 4000 and I thought they were absolutely crazy,” she said. “So I ignored them for about two, three years.”
The Texas 4000 team collects donations throughout their ride and Ali and Pai say that strangers often approach the group when they notice the team’s jerseys or travel vans.
Texas 4000 awards grants to organizations each year that focus on cancer research or support services. Their common recipients include the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the LIVESTRONG Foundation in Austin that was founded by native Texan cyclist Lance Armstrong, the University of Texas’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Brent’s Place in Colorado.