Below is a testimonial from Benjamin Wenner, visiting assistant professor, Animal Sciences. He highlights his nine-year journey with Pelotonia. After his story, learn how to support Buckeye Team-CFAES Sustains Life as well as incentives for being a virtual rider.
My first year in Pelotonia started a bit differently than many of the people that I ride with every year now. Shooting the breeze with a couple friends, one of them asked me out of the blue if I wanted to do a 180-mile bike ride. Keeping in mind that I hadn’t biked more than 15 miles at a time in the past few years, the obvious answer was, “Sure, why not?” He proceeded to explain that there was a grassroots biking organization that rode to Athens and back to raise money for cancer research. As one of the worst kinds of ill-conceived bets, we goaded each other on to see who would crack first on this crazy endeavor. Little did I know we’d just signed up for one of my most life-changing experiences.
Neither one of us even owned a bike. He borrowed a 1980’s version from a friend, but I went all out and scoured Craigslist for weeks to settle on a 1970’s teal LeJeune Normandie in Newark, OH, for $125. My first real road bike was secured, just a couple months before I took the longest ride of my life through the Hocking Hills. I learned to ride on the road and signal to drivers, to change flat tires (old bikes seem to find those quickly), and to make friends with bike shops because something will always go wrong. Sure, we trained some, but ultimately it would prove not to be enough. Through the summer, I shared my story about riding for cancer research and learned just how many people around me had been affected by some sort of the disease. Stories about friends who had survived childhood cancer, colleagues who has lost family members, and even the cancer remission story for someone without whom I would never have followed my career path.
The first day of Pelotonia finally arrived, and I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, there were hundreds more people than I expected at the starting line, and I was struck with the realization of how much bigger Pelotonia was than a couple of guys beating a personal challenge and raising money for a “good cause”. What struck me more than anything else was the buzz all around us; these people were so excited to be here and to be a part of something bigger. The ride that year started through campus, went down near the medical center, and South out of Columbus on High Street. Growing up a Buckeye, I was used to seeing a lot of people lining the roads for events on campus; I didn’t think anything of it. But when we turned the corner and started seeing cancer patients and their families, I felt this rush of adrenaline I hadn’t known before. Here were these people cheering us on who didn’t know us but they knew (even better than I) what this event meant. And the lines of people didn’t stop. Miles down the road there were still people camped out, holding signs or ringing bells. All of these people weren’t just cheering on one person, but a movement. Pelotonia provides funding for novel research, education, and clinical trials that would never be possible without that startup funding. More importantly, the event provides hope to the patients and their families, and the knowledge that a community is aware of their struggles against a faceless monster. And we care. The human element of compassion between people alone is so uplifting.
The ride was full of bumps for us. My crank fell off at mile 12 and we ran out of water a time or two. I remember when we passed the 40-mile mark and I commented that I’d never ridden farther than that. A woman nearby laughed and said, “Well, the rest of today will be interesting for you then.” We walked Starner Hill (and maybe a couple others) and a nasty thunderstorm left us drenched and nearly lost in Logan. Then we chanced upon another rider, out alone by herself. She was on the verge of quitting but we rode with her and shared our stories for what motivated us to keep riding. Completion of the ride was our only goal and the end felt like such a victory. At the end of a second hot and humid Ohio day, I had come to an important conclusion. Pelotonia isn’t just about fundraising but about the emotional experience of feeling like you can make a difference against something invisible but yet so horrible. As riders and fundraisers, we’re providing feedback to patients and their families that they’re not alone. We are all in this together, just like a peloton of riders shields each other from wind on the road and saves everyone a little energy along the way.
This year marks nine years for me riding in Pelotonia, and over $10,000 raised for cancer research. It seemed like a small effort when I started, but those $5 and $10 donations have added up to something amazing – over $160 million by over 8,300 riders! I am not a professional cyclist, but the wonderful thing about Pelotonia is that you don’t have to be good at biking or even enjoy biking to join this unique fundraising effort. In fact, you don’t even have to own a bike – you can be a volunteer or a virtual rider (fundraising but without the time commitment of riding) and your contributions are equally as important! You can donate to riders like myself who get daily encouragement on our training rides from the notifications when someone supports our efforts. Through Pelotonia, I’ve grown to love biking but what keeps me coming back every year are the new stories of survival, the fresh grief from the losses of friends, and the wonderful memories of the people around me. My friends know me as the one who’s not afraid to take on a crazy bet, because you never know where something as simple as a 180-mile challenge can take you.
Support Team Buckeye-CFAES Sustains Life
There are multiple ways to get involved and help fundraise for this important initiative. You can learn more about joining as a rider, a virtual rider, or as an event volunteer by visiting https://pelotonia.org/register/.
To be a virtual rider, all you need to do is raise $100. Or, you can pay the $100 yourself. Registration instructions are below. You also can help support Team Buckeye–CFAES Sustains Life by making a donation to the team. Click here to donate to the team or an individual member of the team.
Incentives for Virtual Riders
Did you know that if you can’t ride in Pelotonia 18, you can be a virtual rider or volunteer with Team Buckeye? Virtual riders participate by raising funds ($100 or more) without boarding a bike. All Team Buckeye virtual riders, which includes Team Buckeye-CFAES Sustains Life, will receive a T-shirt, and those who raise $250+ by Friday, Aug. 3 will be entered to win two tickets to a Big Ten Ohio State football game (game announced at a later date), including admission to the President’s Pregame Huddle.