- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Cycling for cancer cure

Alex Berger of Arlington cycles six days a week, averaging about 80 miles total, rain or shine. He knows he will never garner awards for his ability. He does not aim to win the Tour de France, the 2,500-mile international team bicycle race held annually. But he fondly remembers being lapped last year in a training ride by its champion, Lance Armstrong, the American who won the Tour de France three times after beating cancer.
"Lance wanted to have a brisk training ride," the 30-year-old lawyer says. "Suddenly, he passed me at the end of my second lap. I managed to get on his rear wheel. I was hanging on, watching him ride, thinking I had no business being on his wheel."
This moment occurred during last year's Ride for the Roses weekend, a three-day event in April in Austin, Texas, to encourage cancer survivorship. The Lance Armstrong Foundation flies those individuals who raise at least $5,000 through the nonprofit Peloton Project to the event. They get to cycle with Mr. Armstrong.
Mr. Berger's mother died of breast cancer in 1987. In her memory, he collected more than $7,500 for last year's Peloton Project, named for the cycling term for large packs of riders. This time, Mr. Berger hopes to raise at least $15,000 by the foundation's deadline of Feb. 15.
Along with about 30 other local cycling enthusiasts involved with the Peloton Project, Mr. Berger plans to visit Austin again from April 12 to 14 for this year's gathering, featuring a public 10- to 100-mile Ride for the Roses race that headlines the event. The number of miles Peloton members cycle during the weekend does not factor into amount of money they already raised. The foundation accumulated about $1.2 million for cancer research and education through last year's fund raising.
Scott Schofield of Vienna, whose mother died of breast cancer three years ago, raised $20,000 last year through the Peloton Project. In the United States, one out of every three women and one out of every two men risk developing cancer in their lifetime. More than 1 million new cancer cases occur each year, not including basal and squamous cell skin cancers, the American Cancer Society reports.
Mr. Schofield, 42, works as a Web developer for Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington. He created his own Web site, www.ridewithlance.com, for people to make contributions to the project.
"Last year was my first year raising money," he says. "My wife, Katie, works for Sallie Mae in Reston, Va., and they have a very generous matching gift program."
Long before Mr. Armstrong won the Tour de France, Mr. Schofield loved cycling. He worked in the bike industry for eight years, managing Bikes USA stores in the D.C. area and Trek Bicycles in Wisconsin.
"I still do a fair amount of riding when I get time, about a 50-mile ride, depending on the day," he says.
John Eichberger's grandmother died of colon cancer 15 years ago. Mr. Eichberger, 29, of Arlington, who works at the National Association of Convenience Stores in Alexandria, tries to ride 45 miles a couple times a week to prepare for the Ride for the Roses. He uses an indoor trainer for dark and cold winter nights. He raised a total of $2,700 last year for the Peloton Project. About $1,700 of it came from a fund-raising bash. He plans to have another party to raise money this year.
"Maybe we'll do a raffle this year to add more excitement," the avid biker says.
Mr. Eichberger admires the foundation's emphasis on survival. "You have a much better chance to come out on the other side if you keep a positive attitude than if you fall into a pit of despair because of your pain," he says.
Mr. Armstrong's example helped Eric Rosenfeld of Baltimore persevere through his testicular cancer. This is his first year of involvement with the Peloton Project and the Ride for the Roses weekend. In 1996, doctors diagnosed Mr. Rosenfeld's testicular cancer two weeks after Mr. Armstrong received the same diagnosis.
The disease produced a dozen golf ball-sized tumors in Mr. Armstrong's lungs and lesions on his brain. At age 25, he had only a 50 percent survival rate. He missed the 1997 cycling season, but returned to the sport in 1998. About 8.2 million Americans have survived cancer, the American Cancer Society reports. The five-year survival rate for all cancers improved from 51 percent in the early 1980s to almost 60 percent in the early 1990s.
"As I was going through chemo, so was Lance," the 35-year-old attorney says. "I lost all my hair. I was very thin. After three months, I regained all my strength back. My wife, Jane, and I have a 2-year-old daughter named Emma who is a couple months younger than Lance's son, Luke."
* * *
Doug Ulman, director of survivorship at the Lance Armstrong Foundation, says they receive hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from people who say they have sought early diagnoses because Mr. Armstrong spoke openly about his cancer.
"We really try to inspire hope in people to let them know that there is life after cancer," the three-time cancer survivor says. "Some people are diagnosed and think things will never be the same. We agree that things will never be the same, but we know that you can achieve great things after cancer."
Bianca Rodriguez, communications director at the Lance Armstrong Foundation, says you don't have to be a Peloton member to attend the Ride for the Roses weekend. Last year, 7,000 people participated in the events. The original race has expanded into a "Live to Ride" gala, a silent auction, a 5-kilometer Run for the Roses, a Health and Sports Expo, a Kids CARE ride, and a Rock for the Roses outdoor concert, featuring local and national bands.
She says the Peloton Project serves as the main fund-raising effort of the foundation. Last year, 400 people from across the nation participated. The organization aims to raise $1.5 million this year. This money goes to public education and awareness, survivor services and support, medical and scientific research grants, and groundbreaking survivorship programs at places such Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
"We will give close to $1 million in research grants this year," she says.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation brings people together, Ms. Rodriguez says. "Through the Peloton Project, we've met many incredible survivors," she says. "Lance is just one of many."
Greg Taylor of Alexandria, says his father beat lung cancer and breast cancer. Mr. Taylor commutes every day to work on his bike to train for the Ride for the Roses weekend. He works as an attorney for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Northwest. This is Mr. Taylor's third year raising money for the Peloton Project.
"The message of the foundation is that cancer is not a death sentence," says the 40-year-old who raised about $3,500 last year. "Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. One of them, Lance Armstrong, happens to ride a bike."
Mr. Armstrong declined to comment due to the birth of his twins, Isabelle Rose and Grace Elizabeth, on Nov. 20. He and his wife, Kristin, reside in Austin, Texas.
For more information, contact the Lance Armstrong Foundation at 512/236-8820, www.laf.org.

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