4,000-mile bike ride raises money for cancer research

By Megan Bradley, Staff Writer

Alison DeBruyn spent 75 days this summer riding her bike 4,000 miles across the country.

Illini 4000 is a nonprofit group on campus. This summer was the organization’s 12th cross-country ride. Over the course of their 12-year history, they have raised over $1 million to support charity.

Other than an affinity for biking, the riders share a common passion for raising awareness and money toward cancer research. Each rider is responsible for fundraising $4,000 which benefits organizations such as The American Cancer Society, Prairie Dragon Paddlers and Camp Kesem — all three of which support cancer patients and survivors in different ways.

“I chose to be part of Illini 4000 because I wanted to be part of an organization that positively impacted lots of people,” DeBruyn, senior in Business and Illini 4000 director of fundraising, said. “Unfortunately, cancer is common in the lives of many. By joining Illini 4000, I am able to do my part in raising awareness and donations for the fight against cancer.”

The nonprofit complements its support of cancer research and patient support services with the creation of a nationwide network called the Portraits Project.

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Riders interview and collect stories from people they’ve met along the ride and who have been affected by cancer. The end goal of this project is to document the American cancer experience so that those who are going through it  have a resource provided by others who have gone through the same experience.

Collin McKeough, senior in Business and president of Illini 4000, said something the Portrait Project has taught those involved in the organization is that many people have been impacted by cancer.

“We find that some people are extremely open to talking about their cancer, while others might not be,” McKeough said in an email. “No matter how comfortable someone might be with sharing their story, though, the fight and hope you hear from their experience is truly touching.”

To prepare themselves for the 4000-mile ride, members of Illini 4000 participate in weekly workouts to build core and leg strength.

The route for the cross-country ride goes from New York to San Francisco and is planned by the director of logistics.

McKeough said it is created with the intent to spread the organization’s mission to as many people as possible while keeping rider safety a priority.

Small tweaks in the route allow members of Illini 4000 to spread their message across the country each year.

Christina Su, junior in LAS and vice president of Illini 4000, said the success of each ride is partly due to support from those who donate. This includes Neutral Cycle, the campus bike shop which aids the organization in determining bike logistics and training for their rides.

Bikers travel with only water and some basic repair tools and are followed by a support van which carries backpacks and sleeping bags. Throughout the trip, the group stays with hosts such as churches, schools and community centers.

Su said one of her favorite memories was when the bikers stopped to stay at a church in California and the host prepared a group dinner, during which Su sat with other church members.

“Before we left the next morning, our host came up to me and told me that I had actually been sitting at a table of five cancer survivors, and that day we dedicated our ride to them,” Su said. “That instant is just a small glimpse of how incredible the journey is.”

McKeough, DeBruyn and Su each said the places they have been with the Illini 4000 are unforgettable.

Su said the organization hopes to find enthusiastic riders who will  help Illini 4000 raise as much as possible and create as many new portraits around the country as they can.

“During the ride, you don’t really realize how far you have gone until you look at a map and physically see the ground you have covered. I felt extremely proud of my team and myself for making it that far and found it hard to believe that our 72-day ride was almost over,” DeBruyn said.

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