4K for cancer research

Catonsville resident Sarah Robbins rides her bicycle through the College Park campus of the University of Maryland where she is a student. The Mount de Sales Academy graduate will be biking across the country this summer to raise money for cancer. (Staff photo by Jon Sham / May 7, 2013)

Up until a month ago, Sarah Robbins had never ridden her bicycle more than 15 miles at a time.

In less than a month, the 20-year-old Catonsville resident will bike 4,349 miles from Baltimore's Inner Harbor to Portland, Ore., for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults' "4K for Cancer."

"People don't realize how much they can do, and this is just one of those things where you realize, we can do everything," the junior general biology and linguistics major at the University of Maryland's College Park campus said.

"If I can do this, I can do anything basically," she said.

The 4K began in the fall of 2001 when a group of students from Johns Hopkins biked to San Francisco. It grew over the years to include routes to Seattle, Portland and San Diego, to spread information and support to cancer patients and their friends and families across the country.

"The whole idea behind the 4K is that when people are diagnosed with cancer...everybody wants to do something," said Stephen Hersey, program manager for the 4K at Ulman Cancer Fund.

"We though that, its such a big thing (to be diagnosed) that we want to do something equally as large," he said.

"We want to inspire hope in the communities that we go to," Hersey said. "No one has to face cancer alone."

Last year, 88 4K for Cancer participants traveled across America and raised nearly $500,000 to support young adults affected by cancer, according to the fund's website.

Hersey said that 10 days during the 70-day trip are designated as "rest days" during which riders spend time in the communities visiting cancer patients, putting on a presentation about cancer awareness and prevention or cooking dinner for patients in American Cancer Society Hope Lodges.

Robbins will be riding with 26 others on the Portland route in honor of her grandfather and her neighbor, both of whom died of cancer.

She said to be accepted as a participant, she had to describe a personal connection to the cancer community.

She said those two people were part of her inspiration to participate.

"Cancer is so prevalent in today's society," Robbins said. "No one is every going to say, 'I've never seen it happen'," she said. "I think that's one of the really great things about the 4K is bringing people together."

She will ride a Cannondale Synapse bike donated to each of the riders by Cannondale. She will keep the bike in recognition for her efforts in raising at least $4,500 for the trip and cycling across the country.

She said she was a novice cyclist prior to committing to this trip. But weeks of training for the trip, during which she and the other participants will ride up to 100 miles each day, have her up to 70 miles per day as of last week.

"As soon as I got my bike, I was like, 'OK, it's time to get down to business'," Robbins said.

"Biking long distances, you really just have to get on the bike and go," she said.

Her mother, Jo Ann Robbins, said she was concerned when she first heard about the ride.

"I was a little leery," she said. "It's quite an undertaking.