Bicycles against cancer

Published 10:45 am Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The 38th Annual 100-mile Bike-A-Thon kicked off at 6 a.m. Saturday morning in Albert Lea. Many of the riders were riding in honor of family members who had or do have cancer because of the chance to support the American Cancer Society.

Five brothers from the Navarro family was riding to support their brother, Robert. Robert has ridden in the Bike-A-Thon on and off since it began.

“It’s been fun,” Robert said in the Glenville, the first town on the ride. “We’ve had some good times.”

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He said the weather was good compared to last year, and the group’s goal was to ride about halfway. Albert Lea businessman Kent Erlandson helped them coordinate their group.

“We really appreciate the coordinator,” Robert said. “It’s a really good cause so we hope he keeps doing it.”

Another rider who stopped in Glenville was Leon Bure. He lost his father to cancer in 2008, so he rides in his honor.

“I usually do it every year,” Bure said.

Bure planned to try to finish all 100 miles of the ride. Another rider who stopped in Glenville also wanted to ride as far as he could.

“It’s my first year,” Martin Johnson said. “I’m going to ride as far as I can.”

Johnson told his friends he’d only ride in the Bike-A-Thon if he planted all his corn first. He finished planting so he was riding in honor of his sister.

“I’m doing it in memory of my sister who passed in 1975,” Johnson said.

Many of the riders stopped riding in Glenville, just 10.6 miles into the route, and were picked up and brought back to Albert Lea. The 100-mile route started at Sibley Elementary School’s warming house and then went through Glenville, Myrtle, Hayward, Geneva, Hartland, Freeborn, Alden, Conger and then back to the starting point.

Freeborn County Sheriff Mark Harig, an organizer of the Bike-A-Thon, said there was an above-average turnout of about 150 riders. One woman, Michelle VanRiper, has been riding or volunteering with the Bike-A-Thon since it started.

“I started riding in it when I was 6 years old,” VanRiper said.

She started volunteering when she was 16 and ever since then has worked helping pick up riders along the route if they don’t want to finish.

VanRiper likes that people from all over come to practice on the route because it’s a safe route with escorts and volunteers at highway crossings.

“I have very dedicated drivers picking up people,” VanRiper said.

She volunteers because it’s a way for her family to get together. Her son, Robert, 7, rides and others in her family volunteer. VanRiper’s mother, Patty, was recently diagnosed with lung cancer in November but has gone into remission.

“She’s all clear now,” VanRiper said. “It runs in her side of the family.”

VanRiper has always supported the Bike-A-Thon because of the benefit to the American Cancer Society. She plans to keep volunteering for the cause.

“I’ve done it for 25 years, and I’m not going to stop now,” VanRiper said.