Read Time: 4 minutes
Author: Enrique Arce-Larreta
Physics teacher at West High School, PathMaker Bridge program participant, and Huntsman Hero
From time to time, Huntsman Cancer Institute invites guest commentary from our community. The views reflected in these commentaries are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Huntsman Cancer Institute.
On a picturesque morning at 6 am, a truck packed with enthusiastic cyclists made its way to the starting line of the 140-mile bicycle ride of Huntsman SportsFest, an event dedicated to raising funds for Huntsman Cancer Institute. The ride ahead promised not only a test of physical endurance, but also the opportunity to create lasting connections and make an impact in the fight against cancer.
I’m a physics teacher at West High School in Salt Lake City, and participating in Huntsman Cancer Institute’s PathMaker Bridge program inspired me to ride in Huntsman SportsFest. Through the PathMaker Bridge program, teachers work in cancer research labs for two summers and plan lessons based on their experiences. Thanks to the program, I developed computational and genetics lessons, and led field trips to Huntsman Cancer Institute so my students could learn about medical particle physics.
Having completed my first year and eagerly anticipating the start of the second, I was determined to start my summer research experience by cycling in Huntsman SportsFest. I loved the idea of fundraising while keeping myself healthy as a road cyclist.
With the generous support of my family and friends, I raised more than $500, a testament to their belief in the cause and commitment to making a difference. Surpassing $250 enabled me to participate in Huntsman Heroes training rides, an integral part of my preparation for the main event.
I attended five training rides that gradually increased in difficulty and distance, from 40 to 100 miles. These rides not only prepared me physically, but also fostered a sense of unity among participants. Trainings readied us for the challenges we’d face during Huntsman SportsFest: we cycled along Wasatch Boulevard and Emigration Canyon to practice climbing, and we rode to the Salt Lake Marina, around the airport, and along Legacy Parkway to practice on flat terrain.
Each training ride was meticulously organized and fully supported, mirroring the professionalism and dedication we experienced during the main event. Riding alongside the same group of individuals each week transformed strangers into teammates united by a common goal.
A poignant tradition marked the beginning of each training ride: a dedication to individuals who had fought valiant battles against cancer. These dedications grounded us in the purpose of our ride, serving as a constant reminder of the lives we aimed to impact with our fundraising efforts.
Finally, event day arrived, and cyclists embarked on a journey filled with determination, hope, and a shared commitment to conquering cancer. The weather was ideal, the volunteers were exceptional, and the aid stations offered a variety of energy-boosting options, ensuring our bodies remained fueled for the challenge.
Starting in Salem, Utah, we set off in a spirited convoy, pedaling as a united force. While some riders surged ahead, forming the lead group, I found my own rhythm and navigated the course at my own pace. I spent the initial 25 miles in the company of the frontrunners. After the first rest stop, I found myself in “no man's land,” relying on my determination to push forward. However, fate intervened, and I found myself riding alongside three individuals who became my companions for the remainder of the journey. The camaraderie we shared eased the event’s challenges and exemplified its spirit of unity.
As the miles melted away, we pushed ourselves further, spurred on by volunteers. At each aid station, they greeted us with open arms, replenishing our energy with snacks, followed by lunch in Saratoga Springs. At one station, I challenged volunteers to take shots of pickle juice with me. Their dedication and enthusiasm fortified our resolve, uplifting us in the face of exhaustion.
Upon reaching the finish line, a wave of accomplishment and emotion washed over me. We had not only completed a grueling 140-mile ride with an elevation gain of 3,800 feet, but had also contributed significantly to the ongoing battle against cancer.
Reflecting upon the entire experience, the event transcends the realm of a mere physical challenge. It unites people from diverse backgrounds, fostering a sense of purpose and camaraderie that outlives the ride itself.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the donors, sponsors, volunteers, and fellow cyclists who made this event possible. It is through their support and dedication that we were able to contribute to the vital research, treatment, and care provided by Huntsman Cancer Institute.
As I embarked on my second year in the PathMaker Bridge program, the memories and connections forged during Huntsman SportsFest remained etched in my heart. This extraordinary journey reaffirmed my belief in resilience, the power of community, and the relentless pursuit of a cancer-free future.
In the end, Huntsman SportsFest was about more than conquering miles and elevations; it was about overcoming challenges, fostering connections, and making a tangible difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. Together, we pedaled with purpose, fueled by hope, and ignited a collective determination that will continue to drive us forward.