24 Baltimore: Bikers ride through the night to raise cancer awareness

As Bob Falkenberg crossed the finish line, he thrust both his hands in the air. He was finally done after 24 hours of pedaling around the Johns Hopkins University campus.

To Falkenberg, biking 203 miles on no sleep was nothing compared to his fight with cancer in 2009. He carried memories of his time in treatment during 24 Baltimore, an annual cycling and walking event to raise money for cancer patients.

“This race is about honoring the people fighting cancer now,” said Falkenberg, a 61-year-old leukemia survivor from Fort Collins, Co.

Not all of the more than 300 event participants chose to ride through the night. But all contributed to the final fundraising tally: More than $170,000 for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults and the Livestrong Foundation.

The event kicked off Saturday at 2 p.m. and ran through Sunday afternoon. Participants were treated to a midnight pizza party, free massages and live entertainment. For the riders who did not bike all 24 hours, Hopkins’ Decker Quad was available as a temporary camping ground.

Many of the riders attached reminders of why they were riding to their jerseys. Signs read “In memory of DAD” and “In honor of my daughter.”

Gayle Musker pedaled 72 miles. A sign on her back said she was doing so in memory of a friend who died of cancer this year and in honor of a family member who is battling leukemia.

Her helmet was decorated with stegosaurus spikes.

“Let’s make cancer extinct,” she said.

Like many of the riders, Musker, 55, could rattle off a long list of people in her life impacted by cancer. She said biking during these awareness events is one way she can support and remember them.

“If somebody can fight cancer, I can push it and ride my bike,” she said.

The 24 Foundation has staged the ride in Maryland for a decade, but this weekend was the first time in Baltimore. Mallory Walsh, the foundation’s executive director, said the Johns Hopkins community has embraced the event. Student sports teams sent volunteers to help run the event, and university President Ronald Daniels biked a few laps, she said.

Hopkins sophomore Joe Pollard originally planned to volunteer at the event with his lacrosse teammates. But as he was signing people in, he realized he wanted to participate. He asked each of his teammates to pitch in $2 or $3, and he soon had enough money enter the ride. He rode 100 miles while wearing his lacrosse helmet and pinnie.

Some participants said cycling was a key part of their recovery process. Since Falkenberg underwent a bone marrow transplant, cycling for cancer awareness has taken him across the country, and brought new friends. He spent much of this event riding alongside Annie Lipsitz, 34, another leukemia survivor and cycling enthusiast.

Anne Gay, 69, said she was an active biker before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Her original goal Saturday was to ride one lap around the 2-mile course, but she ended up doing 20 miles throughout the weekend. As she pedaled, she said, she was encouraged by the people on the sidelines who were ringing cowbells and telling her to keep going.

“It’s the first time that I’ve ridden so many miles since my treatment compromised my energy,” she said. “This is a new beginning.”

Brian Stafford, 51, remembers the “stark terror” he felt when his daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Kathleen Stafford, 20, is now cancer-free, and was able to ride in 24 Baltimore alongside her father.

“Being at this event makes me realize how lucky we are that she’s still here and we can do this as a family,” Brian Stafford said.

Nine-year-old Christine Magin rode in memory of her father, who died of brain cancer. Wearing hot pink sneakers and a matching jersey, Magin pedaled 40 miles. She thinks her dad would be proud of her.

Her mother agrees.

“My kids are just so determined,” said Jennifer Magin, of Olney. “Like their dad was.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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