Carroll County Times

Biking for a cause: Eldersburg resident prepares to take part in 4,500-mile bike event to raise money for Ulman Cancer Fund

Amanda Lucarelli, of Eldersburg, takes a break from hiking with friends in Sedona, Arizona, for a photo Feb. 17. Lucarelli is training for a 4,500-mile summer bike ride across America to benefit the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults._- Original Credit: Submitted photo

In the summer of 2014, Amanda Lucarelli, of Eldersburg, immersed herself in her friend Audrey Zahlis' blog. At the time, Zahlis, of Columbia, was biking across America as part of the 4K for Cancer to raise funds for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. This summer, Lucarelli, 21, will follow in her friend's tire tracks and make the 4,500-mile trek from Baltimore to San Francisco.

"Our main focus [at the Ulman Cancer Fund] is young adults with cancer — ages 15 to 39 years old — but we also help caregivers find a support group," said Maeve Koch, run program coordinator for the Baltimore-based Ulman Cancer Fund. "We are giving out 35 scholarships this year. Some are for young adults with cancer but others are for young adults whose family members have cancer. We do not do research. We do support."


Koch said the nonprofit holds four annual bike rides from the East Coast to the West Coast and one or more bike runs from the west to the east.

"This was started by a man named Ryan Hanley," Koch said. "His father passed away from cancer and he decided with his friends to do a cross country bike ride in his honor. They would raise money and give out grants along the way to different cancer funds. The Ulman Cancer Fund was one of the funds they gave a grant too. Once [the ride] got too big to stand on its own, the Ulman Cancer Fund took over."


This is the 15th year the 4K for Cancer is being held and, according to, the event raised more than $1,000,000 for young adults with cancer and their families last year.

Lucarelli and Zahlis met as children at Hashawha Environmental Center when both attended 4-H camp. They hit it off and have stayed in touch.

"When she did the [4K for Cancer] from Baltimore to San Francisco I followed her along the whole journey," Lucarelli said. "She said it was so much fun and I absolutely should do it."

So Lucarelli signed up and crossed her fingers, knowing that only 22 to 30 participants ages 18 to 25 are chosen to participate.

Koch said about 400 apply to participate and the most promising applicants get a 30- to 45-minute phone interview before a final choice is made.

"In 4K for Cancer participants we look for young adults who have a connection to the cancer community, have experience working as a part of a team, are philanthropically inclined, and have the drive to accomplish great things," Koch wrote in an email. "Participants should be compassionate and want to make a difference in the cancer community, inspiring patients in their fight and carrying inspiration from those patients through their journey across the country. The 4K for Cancer is very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging and participants should be able to step out of their comfort zones along with their teammates."

Lucarelli said that after she applied there were phone interviews and she had to write a paper about cancer in young adults, but her biggest challenge has been the amount of money each rider is required to raise — $4,500 — a dollar for every mile ridden.

"My aunt passed from cancer this year on the day I got accepted into this 4K," Lucarelli said, noting that the loss made her goal even more meaningful.


Lucarelli's group will depart from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore on June 5. They will pedal their way to San Francisco, arriving on Aug. 13.

"I have never done anything to this extent before," Lucarelli said. "I've been in the Race for the Cure and Relay for Life but never anything that is biking. They set you up with an 18-week training program that you can follow."

Currently, Lucharelli is riding 30 to 35 miles a day several times a week and steadily increasing her mileage.

Koch said participants will bicycle from Maryland to Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and end in California.

"We use Google Maps and local bike shops to help us create the safest route," Koch said. "We take no interstates but we find routes with a good shoulder on them that have no more than a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit. They are usually on paved roads, but there are a few gravelly bike trails that may take them through the woods."

Bikers sleep in YMCAs and churches and occasionally camp in national parks or other locations, Koch said. Ulman provides tents and has them up and waiting when camping is planned.


"Some days we rode 130 miles," Zahlis said of her trek. "Once we did four 100-mile days in a row. It is no easy feat but you can do it if you have the motivation and the mental drive. You are sore and have bumps and bruises. You are exhausted and tired and then you're asked to get right back on your bike and ride. The route she is doing it almost the same. It is not as tough as cancer but your body is going through so much and it makes you think about what a cancer patient goes through."

Zahlis said two vans follow the route with the riders' duffle bags, food and water.

"The one van goes ahead to look for donations of food." she said. "They bring it back for us each day. The water van has the directions. They go ahead of us and chalk them on the road. They also stop to give us snacks and provide water stops. So you get about six rest days during the summer, [by taking turns] driving the vans.

The group will stop one day a week to volunteer at various hospitals and centers.

"We try to set up some sort of service for them on those days," Koch said. "They might deliver [chemotherapy] care bags to a cancer center," containing socks, a blanket, activity books, lotions and other items plus a guidebook of resources.

Amanda's mom, Dawn Lucarelli, said she is not surprised at her daughter's plan.


"Amanda has always liked a challenge," she said, noting that her first reaction was worry. "I wanted to know more about the organization and how it was supervised. I had 101 questions. Then I thought, 'wow, this is really cool. How selfless of her to do this.' I was impressed she would be willing to give up her summer and the family vacation to Aruba, all to help someone else."

Amanda said she likes a challenge.

"I'm very into volunteering and into having crazy summers. Two years ago I worked at Telescope Pictures in Ocean City, and that was my crazy summer," Amanda said. "This past year I did behavioral therapy for kids with autism [with Children Achieving Maximum Potential]. And this summer will be to cross the country as a way to raise money for cancer. I want to know I can do anything I set my mind to do."

Amanda is carrying a full course load at the University of Arizona and working part-time in a sandwich shop. Her fundraising just surpassed $400. But Zahlis said she knows her friend will reach her goal and do well on the trip.

"I have complete confidence," she said.

Amanda's mom also applauds her daughter's efforts.


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"She is the most giving and kindhearted person," she said. "She has always wanted to give to others.'

Zahlis said she believes Amanda's ride across America will be life-changing.

"I don't think I will ever do anything as meaningful as when I did that," Zahlis said. "When she told me she was doing it I think I started crying. I am so excited for her."

Learn more about the 4K for Cancer at

Donate to Amanda's fundraising at

Lois Szymanski writes for the Neighborhoods section of the Carroll County Times and can be reached via email at