Bike-A-Thon hit by wind and cold

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2008

By Sarah Stultz,staff writer

Despite chilly early-morning temperatures and windy conditions, about 130 people bundled up Saturday morning to participate in the 36th annual Freeborn County Bike-A-Thon.

The air temperature was around 37 degrees at 6 a.m. when the event began, with winds from northwest at about 21 mph. That made riding to Glenville easier than riding back.

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At the start, most riders who participated did not seem put back by the conditions. They were eager to begin.

However, Freeborn County Sheriff Mark Harig announced before the riders took off that the ride would end in Glenville this year because of the conditions. People could ride to Glenville and then take a bus back or ride to Glenville and back on their bikes.

This was a disappointment to some as the Bike-A-Thon usually covers a 100-mile route. A ride to Glenville and back is just 20 miles.

Despite this setback, most riders who participated indicated they decided to come out because they wanted to do their part to help find the cure for cancer.

One of these devoted families was the Ryan family, who traveled from the Twin Cities to take part in the Bike-a-thon.

Alicia Ryan, of Eagan, shared her story of how the family got involved with the event.

In 1996, her mother, Ginny Ryan, a mother of three children and wife to Jerry Ryan, was diagnosed at the age of 43 with colon cancer.

After Ginny&8217;s doctor, Irving J. Lerner, with the Minnesota Oncology Hematology Professional Association of St. Paul, informed her family about the bike ride in Albert Lea, they got a group together to participate.

In 1997 the group included Alicia and her brother, Russell, her mom and dad, and her mother&8217;s friend from work and her husband.

Alicia said she was 12 years old and only made it half the way that time, but the rest of the group made the whole 100-mile trip, ending around 5:30 p.m. that day.

&8220;I&8217;ve never seen a group more exhausted and proud at the same time,&8221; she said.

After the event, her mother&8217;s cancer quickly took a turn for the worst, however, and later in December of that same year, she was admitted to the hospital, where she passed away three days after Christmas.

In 1998, the family rode in memory of Ginny.

That time, there were 10 members in the group who participated.

Alicia said this was the first time she made the entire 100-mile bike ride.

By 1999, there was no question as to whether they&8217;d participate, she said.

They once again rode in memory of Ginny and wore the memorial T-shirts they had made the previous year.

That year, Alicia recalled, there was the nicest weather.

In 2000, because of rumors that the bike ride would be the last due to low biker turnout, this was the last year the group rode in the Bike-a-thon.

They wore the same memorial T-shirts they made in 1998.

&8220;There was never a question to if it was going to be a windy day because it always was,&8221; Alicia said of that year. &8220;And no matter which way we were headed on our bikes, the wind was never at our backs. We knew where the hills were, when to plug our noses by the smelly farms, and what kind of food the volunteers prepared for us at the rest stops.&8221;

But after finding out the Bike-a-thon had still continued after all these years, the family decided to start up again this year.

They trained for about a month, doing 10-mile bike rides each day during the week and 30-mile bike rides on the weekends.

This year they&8217;re not only riding in memory of her mother, but they&8217;re also riding for the miraculous recovery of her father, Alicia said.

On Feb. 13 of this year, he, too, was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent surgery to remove the cancerous cells on Feb. 22 and has since made an incredible recovery.

&8220;Some question why this had to happen to our family when we have already been through so much,&8221; she said. &8220;My dad has always replied that we learn, grow and jump every obstacle that life gives us. With his colon cancer down to stage one, he says that he&8217;s won the lottery.&8221;

Though a majority of participants in the Bike-A-Thon only went as far as Glenville or to Glenville and back, the Ryans made up their minds to go farther.

They made it as far as Myrtle before they decided they had to come back.

&8220;It was so bad out there,&8221; Alicia said. &8220;It took us an hour to go four miles.&8221;

When they finished, they had completed close to 50 miles.

&8220;I&8217;m sad we couldn&8217;t go the whole 100 miles,&8221; she said. &8220;But we had to see what it was like.&8221;

Harig commended all of the riders who came out to participate.

&8220;To come out in this &8212; when we&8217;ve got 20 to 25 mph wind that will be out here all day &8212; they&8217;re pretty dedicated,&8221; Harig said. &8220;For this weather, I think we had a good turnout.&8221;

Organizers said riders ranged in age from 5 to 82.

The 5-year-old boy was Robert VanRiper and the 82-year-old man was Otto Becker.

Becker was also the oldest rider last year.

Riders have until May 13 to turn in all of their pledges from the race.

Then on June 3, prizes will be awarded for various categories, including most pledges raised, oldest rider, youngest rider and other categories.

Freeborn County&8217;s Bike-A-Thon is the oldest continuous fundraiser in the county, with participants as high as 1,200 in past years.

The event has been recognized by the American Cancer Society as one of its top 10 fundraisers in Minnesota.