RSO Illini 4000 cycles in Underwear Mile for cancer awareness

Even though cancer, in all its different types, is a serious, life-altering disease, there are ways to help give those who are affected a chance at being cured and to lead a normal life.

That’s where Illini 4000 comes in. It’s a non-profit organization that sends a group of thirty students on a cross-country bike ride to raise funds for cancer research while spreading awareness in a unique way.

“Illini 4000 was founded by two guys who thought there wasn’t enough funding for cancer research,” said Alex Massey, director of marketing. “So they put together this organization because they wanted to raise money and also bike across the country.”

Thursday is their first fundraising event of the year, the Underwear Mile. Students will run in their underwear or a funny costume from Washington Park, all the way down Green Street, and on to the Quad, in front of Foellinger Auditorium.

There will be a raffle for prizes, but the cost of participating, $5, is one way to help them reach their fundraising goal.

“We all met up (last year) around 8:30 and started our run at 9:00. We ran down Green Street, and that was particularly fun because we got to stop at the crosswalks and were yelling about what we were doing to people,” said Ashley Young, director of special events. “It was nice to get our name out there and show people that there are more ways to get involved (in Illini 4000) than just cycling across the country.”

To be able to participate on the cross-country ride, each rider must first raise $3,500 through donations. Many contact their friends, families or write letters to various organizations asking for support. During the fall they start conditioning and training, and progress to longer bike rides into the spring semester. The actual ride from New York City to San Francisco takes place from the end of May through the beginning of August. As they progress — meeting new people affected by cancer along the way— they try to document their experiences.

“By interviewing people, which can be anyone on the route — mothers, daughters, friends, or family — we put together a portrait, which is us interviewing whoever we meet and talking about their experience with cancer and how it has affected their lives. It consists of a picture of the person, a short video interview and important quotes and messages,” Massey said.

These meetings with cancer patients are not prearranged, Young said. When people would see a group of thirty college students all walking in to a restaurant or gas station wearing the same jersey, they would ask about what they were doing and the purpose of their trip. The group members would talk about the organization, the portraits project, and ask if they have friends or family that have been affected by cancer.

All these interviews and stories are then uploaded onto “portraitsproject.org”:www.portraitsproject.org through which people can view and connect themselves to other people who have been affected by cancer. The project also shows others how cancer affects so many people from all walks of life across the country and how they deal with it.

Through Illini 4000, people get a chance to help cancer patients both through raising money to find cures, as well as by documenting the experience of those living with cancer, making patients feel connected, open and comfortable during trying times.

_Mohamed can be reached at [email protected]_