Whitman cyclists race 60 mi. to combat cancer

Lisa Curtis

Early Saturday morning while most students were still in bed recovering from the night before, twelve Whitman cyclists were out riding their bikes to fight cancer in Walla Walla’s Gran Fondo.

In Italian, “gran fondo” means “great ride.” For the past three years an annual gran fondo has been held in Walla Walla as a fund-raiser for St. Mary’s Regional Cancer Center.

St. Mary’s Medical Center was named as one of the top 100 hospitals in the United States in 2007 for maintaining low health care prices for patients. The cancer center helps patients get the treatment they need regardless of their financial situation. Since chemotherapy by itself costs $25,000 per month, people come from all over the Northwest to be treated at St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s advertised for the bike event of the Gran Fondo by promising that Whitman cyclists would lead the rides. There were three different rides to choose from, a 22 mile ride that stopped at wineries, 40 mile that also managed to have a few winery stops and a 60 mile ride. Beside the bike ride, there was also a horseback ride and a walk offered.

The bike rides began at Walla Walla Community College. After eating the free donuts and hyping themselves up on caffeine, the Whitman students were ready to ride. Five Whitman riders led the 60 mile ride, which looped through Waitsburg and Prescott.

The 60 mile ride had a good mix of local riders, Whitman alumni and even a few visitors from the east coast. The group stayed tight, trying to avoid a tough cross wind that cut into them as they headed toward Waitsburg. After fueling up on energy bars and drinks, the group split into one leading group and one slower group.

“I think that it’s neat that the 60 mile ride has gained the reputation of ‘come hammer with the Whitman kids ride’ because most fundraiser rides out there only really cater to a slower pace. The Gran Fondo has an option for competitive riders,” wrote Whitman alumna Rebecca Jensen through e-mail.

Zac Strode led the 40 mile bike ride for those less up to a four hour long ride. The 40 mile group quickly spilt off into smaller groups, a couple of which got lost and a couple of which decided they wanted to spend some quality time at the wineries. Eventually, however everyone made it to the finish where St. Mary’s had organized Oktoberfest style food and fun.

Team members were happy to receive a complimentary Walla Walla Sweet Onion Sausage, veggies and a beverage. Paying participants also received a wine glass that entitled them to free tasting at certain wineries and participating restaurants downtown.

The fund-raising didn’t end with the registration fee. In one corner of the deck was a quilt-maker, next to her, a jeweler. On the other side of the beer were hairdressers who were doing bright pink hair extensions for a small fee. All of the artists were local, and all the wares were pink.
The biggest fund-raiser was the silent auction which offered large selections of local wine.

“I was excited to see that the Gran Fondo had really grown since it began only 3 years ago,” wrote Jensen.