Fighting Cancer, a Thousand Miles at a Time
The fight against cancer is one of the most unifying causes throughout the United States and the world. People from all over the country join organizations to dedicate their time, energy, and resources to putting an end to this terrible disease. A few of these individuals are right here on campus, as part of an organization known as Texas 4000.
Texas 4000 is a group made up of college students who are impassioned about the fight against cancer. The hallmark event of Texas 4000 is a bike ride from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska. That’s right: a bike ride to Alaska. It is the longest student-run charity bike ride in the world. With such an immense task ahead of them, it’s easy to see that the riders of Texas 4000 are a determined and driven group. The ride is a 70-day journey, with mileage varying anywhere from 50 to 100 miles per day. The riders spend rest days in major cities with large cancer hospitals, where they take tours of the hospitals and interact with the cancer patients and communities there.
However, Texas 4000 is much more than a bike ride to Alaska. A current rider, Basil Hariri, explains, “the three main pillars of Texas 4000 are hope, knowledge, and charity in the fight against cancer.” In the words of Zack Kingsack, another current rider, “Even though we’re most known for the cornerstone bike ride, we're cyclists last. We're not only riding a bicycle; we're trying to spread hope, knowledge, and charity into these communities, and bring more people into the fight as well. We give them hope that we are fighting for a future without this disease.”
Riders also engage with the Austin community, volunteering for events like the Dell Children’s Survivor Challenge, an event that helps pediatric cancer patients prepare for a 5K run. Riders will fundraise a minimum of $4,500 for cancer research and cancer support service organizations, such as research at MD Anderson in Houston and biomedical engineering research at UT Austin.
Different experiences spur a number of people to come together in the fight against cancer. For Kingsack, this motivation stems from his relationship with his high school mentor, Melanie, who had multiple remissions with breast cancer until the disease took her life. “She taught me what it meant to branch out and support people and put myself behind something that's bigger; to be a servant leader,” says Kingsack. “She was very resilient and strong throughout her fight. There are so many great people in the world that help others and are a shining light; to have cancer take them away is just terrible.”
Other riders, like Hariri, have not personally encountered cancer, but want to work for a better tomorrow without cancer. “I came to terms with the fact that it affects just about everyone and objectively causes so much grief in so many ways,” shares Hariri. “Even for the people who haven’t been affected by cancer yet, it’ll happen eventually.”
To no surprise, the experience of being a Texas 4000 rider has a life lasting impact on the riders. “Before Texas 4000, I took a passive approach to a lot of things,” says Hariri, “I wasn’t really a go-getter in any way, and I never felt like I could really make a difference. I think Texas 4000 has made me more aware of my own willpower and what I can do with it. It has also motivated me to keep fighting to make a difference for specifically cancer-related causes.”
For other riders, like Kingsack, the ride has taught the members attributes of leadership and teamwork. “What I've seen in this team is an overwhelming sense of support,” says Kingsack. “Throughout my life, I've liked to do things by myself, and didn’t really like to ask for help. But this team has taught me to be a better teammate, as well as the importance of leaning on one another and anticipating people's needs without having them ask you first.”
There are ways that people outside of the organization can get involved as well. The Texas 4000 website (www.texas4000.org) is a great place to start. The website displays every member’s "Why I Ride" profile, where each member explains what impassions them to fight against cancer in this unique way. “By reading all of our bios and blog posts, you can really paint a picture of what this organization means to us and what this organization means to the communities that we touch,” says Kingsack. People can also refer to the Texas 4000 website to donate, volunteer at events, and even ride with the team.
In an event called the Atlas Ride, the first day of the team’s ride is open to anybody that wants to participate, and the money paid goes toward the team’s fundraising. “Many riders ride with ‘the person that they ride for,’ with the person that they joined this organization for,” says Hariri. Riders can also use support every once in a while. “We have to ride over 4000 miles on a bike, which can be mentally draining,” says Kingsack, “so having friends and support groups that aren't on the ride to give you encouragement and remind you why you're riding is really encouraging.”
All in all, Texas 4000 is a unique organization that fights cancer in a novel way, as well as a wonderful opportunity for anyone impassioned about the fight against cancer. Texas 4000 looks for new riders every fall, and more information about the application can be found on their website. “First and foremost, you need to want to fight cancer,” says Kingsack to people interested in joining. In addition, there are very little physical requirements; biking experience is not even required. Furthermore, Texas 4000 is not an organization that only accepts well-established leaders. “We want the whole spectrum, from people just learning about leadership to people that are well seasoned in leading organizations,” says Kingsack.
If you are at all inclined to improve as an individual, reach out to communities in need, or contribute to the movement to end cancer, Texas 4000 is a great organization bound to benefit you and those around you for a lifetime. Texas 4000 is a living testament to the fact that anyone has a chance to contribute to a cancer free world. Whether you want to ride or simply contribute to a great organization with your support, joining Texas 4000 mission is a cause well worth your time.