Biking to Save Lives: Illini 4000 rides for cancer research


Kylie Corral

Members of the Illini 4000 arrive at the Beckman Institute for a welcome event for their short return back to the Champaign-Urbana area on Wednesday. The Illini 4000 is an RSO committed to traveling cross country to raise money for cancer research at the University.


The Illini 4000, a student RSO dedicated to riding cross country to raise funds for cancer research at the University, was welcomed back to Champaign-Urbana for a short break before the rest of their journey commences. So far this year, they have raised more than $100,000 — more than the last two years combined.

When the riders for the 2022 route arrived at the Beckman Institute on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, they were welcomed by applause, which was then followed by a short speech thanking those embarking on the long ride for their time dedicated to the fundraiser. 

To commence their short break in Champaign-Urbana, food was provided for them while they answered interviews and greeted people who were waiting for them to arrive. Riders lined the benches with cupcakes, crackers and Illini 4000 water bottles.

Paul Hergenrother, professor in LAS and deputy director of the Cancer Center at Illinois, was the speaker for the event that welcomed the Illini 4000. 

He said the center is grateful for the fundraiser and the immeasurable impact it has.

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“So I think, you know, just that they’re willing to ride through this inclement weather and help out everybody in our labs, I think that’s really special,” Hergenrother said.

Hergenrother said everything that is raised goes directly to the University’s cancer researchers to support research projects as well as helping students to be trained in these disciplines.

“They’re a group of people that are passionate about biking and cancer research and you know, they’re putting those together,” Hergenrother said.

Lucas Dion, sophomore in Business, said the Illini 4000 is a cross-country bike ride from New York to San Francisco that raises money for cancer research and support services, documenting the American experience too.

“The first couple days we have to meet with a lot of the people who we donate to, one of them being the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation,” Dion said. “They do a lot of interesting research that doesn’t otherwise get funded.”

Dion said the Damon Runyon Research Foundation does a lot of unique and interesting stuff and he is glad the team can raise money for them and the B+ Foundation.

Dion also said he was proud of what the team has been able to accomplish so far.

“I’m looking forward to getting out west and seeing some really cool stuff, like the mountains, going to the Grand Teton (National Park), and just a lot of stuff that I’ve never seen before, which is really interesting,” Dion said. “I’m just looking forward to spending more time with this team.”

Dion said that one of his favorite parts of the ride so far has been the generosity of people he has met by chance. He said loves being in a new spot every day and meeting new people.

“Illini 4000 is a really cool organization,” Dion said. “A lot of people who come into it aren’t very experienced bikers. Just have a love for the cause and a love for adventure.”

Dion said he recommends people who are interested look into what they do as a team and that this is an experience that not all colleges offer.

Marie Hubbard, the president of Illini 4000 during the past year and recent University graduate, said that she handles things such as insurance, 501(c)(3) registration, reaching out to beneficiaries and donors as well as overseeing the board of directors, which is similar to different branches of the organization.

She said that she joined the Illini 4000 in her Freshman year of college and this year she is the ride leader for the 2022 trip.

“I just saw them one day and I was like, this seems like a really fantastic thing,” Hubbard said. “A lot of my family’s been affected by cancer, so that was like another big reason to do it.”

The Illini 4000 does something called the Portraits Project as well, where the team interviews cancer survivors they meet while riding across the country. Hubbard said it’s a chance for cancer survivors to tell their stories.

“And so essentially, it’s just like a sit-down interview,” Hubbard said. “I say interview, but it’s more like a conversation. We leave it very open and we just say tell us your story.” 

Like Dion, Hubbard said she was in awe of people’s generosity in opening their homes and churches to feed the team without ever meeting them before. She said she was happy to see riders experience this ride as well.

Hubbard said it feels really good to be back for a day in Champaign-Urbana and that the team was excited to have a day off.

“I just graduated so I feel like I was kind of in a rush to get out of here,” Hubbard said. “We started the week after graduation, so I didn’t have a lot of time to kind of soak in the nostalgia and memories of this place, but it’s really great to be back.”

Hubbard said a lot of people assume that they can’t do this ride when they hear about the Illini 4000 but that anyone interested should apply.

“We’re happy to take anyone of all skill levels,” Hubbard said. “We’ve taught people how to ride a bike, there’s been people who haven’t known how to ride a bike before they did Illini 4000. The experience outside and inside of the biking is so completely worth it.”


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