Plano-native Maile McQuaid spent nearly two years training for the Texas 4000 bike ride from Austin to Anchorage. She was joining her fellow graduates from the University of Texas at Austin who had been selected to embark on the 4,000 mile bike ride to raise money for cancer research at local hospitals and become the next generation of cancer fighters.
McQuaid and her fellow riders worked for about three semesters getting ready for the ride. Their first semester was spent doing volunteer work with cancer research organizations. They also engaged in community outreach and raised funds for their ride-related expenses. During the second semester, they began training, first by doing 40 to 50-mile bike rides, then gradually working their way up to 60 to 70-mile bike rides.
By spring time, they were ready to begin 100-mile bike rides and hill training for the 4,000 mile ride to Alaska. Then COVID-19 struck before they could begin. Businesses closed across the state, and some Texans began sheltering in place.
Now, due to COVID-19 concerns, McQuaid and her team have gone virtual with their ride, riding the 4,000 miles indoors on stationary bikes and broadcasting it on the Texas 4000 website. They're also encouraging viewers to share stories and make ride dedications and inviting notable doctors to speak on Saturdays about cancer awareness and prevention.
The ride usually takes place over the course of 70 days, with the riders staying overnight with hosts who have volunteered their homes. This year's virtual ride will conclude Friday, after only 25 days yet it will still have a major impact on its riders.
“I’ve learned to have hope in the midst of suffering, and that teammates around you sharing that hope is the gift of human life,” McQuaid says. “This summer isn’t what we thought, but it’s been so cool to see how even when things change and don’t look like what you think they look like there can still be hope.”
Texas 4000 began in 2004, when founder Chris Condit and his wife, Mandy, were students at UT Austin. They had a chance encounter with a group of cyclists who were biking from San Francisco to Baltimore to raise money for cancer research.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 11, Chris is a cancer survivor and understood the importance of raising money for cancer research. He was inspired to create the longest charity bicycle ride in the world. The inaugural ride included 43 UT students who ignited a trail of awareness from Austin to Anchorage. They presented a check for $112,000 to the American Cancer Society.
Sixteen years later, Texas 4000 is still competitively selecting UT students for an 18-month program to cultivate the next generation in the fight against cancer. Each student rides 2,000 training miles with her team, raises $4,500, and volunteers 50 hours in the community.
“We are now a well-oiled machine in terms of our recruitment process,” Condit says.
They're looking for students driven to fight cancer and have previous organizational involvement. Good communication skills is a must, as well as a demonstrated ability to work with a team. Surprisingly, previous cycling experience isn't a requirement since the training takes place before the summer ride begins.
McQuaid was working as a summer fellow at the Livestrong Cancer Institute when she first found about the Texas 4000 and decided to apply.
“I was working with a cancer researcher,” she says, “and I got to talk to so many people who are involved in the oncology world — social workers, counselors, doctors, nurses. I’ve never seen a field where people are so passionate about what they do, and I decided I wanted to work in oncology. So I chose to apply [for Texas 4000] because they were such a passionate group on campus.”
Originally, Condit launched Texas 4000 with a $1 per mile fundraising model, with each rider setting the goal of raising $4,000 dollars. Today, each rider is encouraged to raise $4,500, complete 50 hours of volunteer work as well as 2,000 miles of bike training prior to the ride.
The money raised by the riders benefits cancer research at hospitals such as Children’s Health in Dallas and helps support organizations such as Brent's Place, which provides clean housing free of charge for immuno-compromised patients undergoing cancer treatment. It also helps provide cancer patients with transportation to their treatments and doctors appointments and develops leaders through the riders’ leadership development program, where they learn about cancer prevention.
To date, more than 900 riders have participated in the Texas 4000, raising over $11.6 million and logging more than 5.2 million miles.
Like McQuaid, Condit says this year’s online pivot made for a great learning experience. He plans to apply what he’s learned this year to help improve leadership skills among next year’s participants.
“It was really hard for these riders who had been preparing for almost two years,” Condit says. “But we have been very proud of what they have created in place of that: a virtual ride which allows them to broaden their reach.
"There’s been a lot of wonderful growth and learning that has come out of this. I applaud our staff and our riders for making the most of a tough situation.”