It’s not just a ride, it’s a movement

It’s not just a ride, it’s a movement

 

On the corner of South Third and Rich streets in downtown Columbus, a sea of green-jerseyed riders rolls bikes to the starting line. Twenty-five miles away, Huntington volunteers prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cups of water at Pickerington High School North. A hundred miles from the starting line, families gather along the race route with signs that read, “Go Dad!” or, “Thanks for saving my grandma.” And across state lines, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, virtual riders tune in via social media, writing comments of support.

On the corner of South Third and Rich streets in downtown Columbus, a sea of green-jerseyed riders rolls bikes to the starting line. Twenty-five miles away, Huntington volunteers prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cups of water at Pickerington High School North. A hundred miles from the starting line, families gather along the race route with signs that read, “Go Dad!” or, “Thanks for saving my grandma.” And across state lines, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, virtual riders tune in via social media, writing comments of support.

Pelotonia 2015, the latest ride to cure cancer, has begun.

“When you walk your bike up to the starting line, that’s the most powerful moment for me,” Taylor Gaspar, corporate communications special projects lead and 2015 Team Huntington Pelotonia campaign co-chair said. “Everybody beside you has worked just as hard to raise money, everybody has a different story about why they’re participating, and when you cross that start line, the whole group moves forward together. That feels really powerful. You see on the back of their jersey, ‘Riding for my mom.’ Those are the powerful moments of connection.”1

Since 2009, Huntington colleagues have been among the thousands of Pelotonia cyclists riding across Ohio to raise money for cancer research. Since it began, Pelotonia has occupied a special place in the hearts of Huntington colleagues, whether they’re fanatical cyclists, occasional riders or unlikely to bike at all.

“Cancer is something that touches all of us,” said Christina Brown, financial education and volunteerism manager and Team Huntington Pelotonia campaign chair from 2012 to 2015. “When I got involved with Pelotonia, I did not know anyone in my family that had cancer. I didn’t connect with it in that way. But when you spend day in and day out talking and sharing and laughing and sometimes crying with individuals who have stories, those stories begin to compile and they build something inside of you. So when it comes time for ride weekend, it’s much more than that.

“Every pedal that spins, every helmet that you see, every mile marker that you pass, the meaning is different. It’s more than just that ride or the eight months that led up to that ride. It was about every story, every tear, every memory that I was able to hear or share or be blessed to be a part of.”2

In just seven years, Pelotonia — the name is a variation on “peloton,” meaning the main group of riders in a bike race — attracts more participants than any other single-event biking fundraiser in the United States.3 Thanks to support from Huntington and the other funding partners, every dollar raised by participants goes directly to fund research at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

Pelotonia riders commit to a personal fundraising goal based on their choice of several one- or two-day rides ranging from 25 to 180 miles. Virtual riders can support Pelotonia by committing to raise funds, even if they can’t physically participate in the ride.

“This has become part of our culture,” Brown said, “a part of who we are.”4

Dr. Michael Caligiuri, director of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, founded Pelotonia in 2008 to help the ever-growing need for cancer research funding.

In 2008, Caligiuri shared with Tom Lennox his idea of a large-scale bike ride in central Ohio to benefit cancer research, and Lennox signed on as Pelotonia’s first CEO and Executive Director. Lennox, a cancer survivor, was inspired by Lance Armstrong and had cycled to stay fit —physically and emotionally — during his own chemo treatments in 2007.5 Pelotonia hosted its first ride weekend in 2009, raising $4.5 million with more than 2,500 participants.6 That first year, Huntington had 54 riders who pedaled routes ranging from 25 miles to a two-day, 180-mile route that overnighted in the college town of Athens, Ohio.

The following year, Huntington, along with the L Brands Foundation and the Santulli family, committed to support Pelotonia as major funding partners. By helping underwrite the costs of the event, these partners ensured that 100 percent of all funds raised would continue to directly support life-saving cancer research at The James.

Christina Brown remembers that when Huntington CEO Stephen Steinour was approached about becoming a lead sponsor of the event, he jumped at the chance to have Huntington be a part of the Pelotonia movement.

“Steve had the vision and thought, ‘Why wouldn’t we support this?’ Cancer has no boundaries, no state, no color of skin, no ethnic background; it’s unfortunately something that ties us together. Through that vision and true belief, this idea of Pelotonia — an event where 100 percent of the funds went back to research — struck a chord with him.

“So he, along with Les Wexner and Limited Brands, as well as the Santulli family, came together and said, ‘We want to fund this.’ They provided the seed grants, the operating support — a five-year commitment.”

Five years later, more than 1,200 Huntington colleagues, representing all 11 Huntington regions and 27 states, including friends and family members, rode in Pelotonia 2015. An additional 555 colleagues participated as virtual riders and more than 700 colleagues volunteered during Pelotonia weekend in August 2015.

Part of the challenge for Huntington, especially in the early days, was rallying nearly 12,000 colleagues around a project in which the beneficiary is — on the surface — a central Ohio institution.

“Even though we have really great regional participation, you have a lot of people coming in from out of town, saying ‘I have a really great cancer hospital in my backyard. What’s so special about Pelotonia that I need to give my money and dedicate my time and effort to this ride?”

The answer is simple: Money raised during Pelotonia has a nearly immeasurable impact and spread, when you consider that 100 percent goes to cancer research — innovations that can be exported to the rest of the world.

“Not a penny that you raise goes to overhead costs,” Caligiuri said.7

More specifically, money raised during Pelotonia supports:
1) Idea grants, awarded for early-stage, high-risk/high-reward concepts too early in their development to be eligible for National Institutes of Health grants
2) Scholarships, for students interested in pursuing cancer research
3) Tools for research and development
4) Talent recruitment, bringing the best and brightest into cancer research at The James

Addressing talent recruitment, Caligiuri said, “One of the jewels of The James is that every single one of our doctors does just one kind of cancer.…Our goal over the last 10 years has been to recruit those physicians that do just one cancer, what I call superspecialists, and we’ve now got about 160 of those.”8

Another concrete example of Pelotonia dollars in action: $100,000 raised during the event supported clinical trials of the chronic lymphocytic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma drug Ibrutinib. The trials were successful for 50 to 90 percent of clinical test subjects, and because of these Pelotonia-supported trials, the drug received FDA approval in January 2015 and is now available to millions of patients around the world.9

“Research is a different kind of business,” Brown said. “They want to share their discoveries. The second something is discovered, it’s published, it’s put out there, not just with folks at The James, but across the world.”

Cancer statistics are sobering — 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get the disease in their lifetimes.10

“They’re shocking stats,” Brown said. “But the reality is that you don’t feel it until it hits home. The numbers are real. We had a regional colleague, a mother of very young children. It started with a cough, what she thought was a simple cold, and it ended up being much worse. Her region is not based here locally, passing by The James every day, though they’ve got a beautiful hospital in the Cleveland Clinic.

“To see not only her business line — the insurance group — but that whole region rally around her and her family was extremely emotional, extremely driving. Ultimately, we lost her. When it hits that close to home, at work where we as a company are trying to join together to make a difference in this fight, that was really moving. And there’s so many stories like that.”

“We have a great number of riders each year,” Gaspar continued. “But beyond those riders we also have an amazing group of ‘High Rollers’— a designation that Pelotonia gives them, which means they’re committing to raise $5,000 or more. We usually have about 70 or 80 people in this category. In addition, we also have virtual riders. Those are people who can’t commit to the physical ride or such a high fundraising commitment, but still want to participate, still want to give. They’re reaching out to people the same way the riders are, soliciting from their friends and family, drumming up participation and getting people excited.

“The final group is the volunteers. It’s just a fantastic group. We have an amazing volunteer leader (Jana Nix) who’s been involved since the very beginning and rallies our volunteers. We have a rest stop at the 25-mile mark, with 30 or 40 colleagues making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, putting out orange slices, getting water to the riders, cheering them on, and that stop in particular is really memorable for everybody. And we have plenty of other volunteers working in support events throughout the entire year leading up to Pelotonia.”

Along with Huntington colleagues, many of the bank’s customers and community partners have joined the Pelotonia experience.

“It’s an all-in commitment from this community and so many other communities around the country,” Brown said.

Since its founding in 2008, Pelotonia participants have raised more than $106 million to fight cancer. The 2015 event, with a record 7,981 riders, raised a record $23.6 million.11

But as impressive as those numbers are, it’s neither the dollar figures nor the head counts that make the most lasting impression on the Huntington colleagues at Pelotonia.

“What’s really fabulous when you’re riding,” Brown said, “is when you go past someone’s home or you’re riding through a field, and you’ll see someone … with a sign saying, ‘You saved my life,’ or ‘My wife is alive because of you,’ or ‘Thank you for riding for me.’ You don’t really get it until you’re out on the ride, until you see those people,” Brown said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”12

In competitive cycling, the “bell lap” is the race’s final lap. As Pelotonia riders make a final push toward the finish line and hear the ringing of bells, it’s not just the ride itself that they are thankful for finishing. All who participate hope that we as an international community are approaching the final “bell lap” in the fight against cancer, coming ever closer to a cure, and entering a new future in which the disease will be a relic of the past.

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Since 2009, Huntington colleagues have participated in the Pelotonia bike ride to benefit Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

 

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More than 1,200 Huntington colleagues ride 25 to 180 miles to raise money for cancer research.