ANGOLA — On June 1 in Baltimore, Md. four teams, each comprised of approximately 28 people, began cycling their way across the country. Team San Francisco, Team Portland, Team Seattle and Team San Diego all made their way to their respective finish lines. Angola resident Heather Willard, daughter of Chris and Mike Willard, will arrive with her team in San Diego, Calif. on Saturday, Aug. 9.
The 4K For Cancer is a program of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. According to the organization’s website, the fund’s stated mission is to offer “a network of support services that addresses the unique needs of this population and empower people to be a voice for this under-served population.”
In order to raise cancer awareness, the teams ride more than 4,000 miles through 14 different states. Participants will ride major highways, rather than bike paths, over a span of 70 days.
Willard, a graduate of Lake Shore High School, will be going into her senior year at Kent State University in Ohio, where she is working toward her bachelor’s degree in accounting. She needed to be accepted as a part of the team, and was only eligible after having a telephone interview and raising $4,500. She started fundraising in December 2013 and reached her goal in early May, this year.
At a young age, she lost her grandfather to a brain tumor and her grandmother to leukemia. Why is she cycling 4,000 miles?
“I want to provide people with a sense of hope that there is a way to fight back against cancer,” Willard said.
With brand-new bikes from the foundation, members begin their days at 5 a.m. and start the day’s ride by 7, that morning. Throughout the entire trip, the team was responsible for finding donated shelter and food.
“I will admit, I was not happy when she told me she was doing it. I was scared,” said Chris Willard, her mother. “I thought there would be a lot of money involved. Didn’t realize that most of it was donated to them, food-wise. Now, I’m very happy she chose to do it.”
Heather Willard became a leg leader, which meant that she was responsible for finding hosts for the first 20 days of the trip, prior to starting the ride. Often crashing in churches, schools or YMCAs, if the team did not find a place to stay while mid-ride, they were stuck on the street.
“The idea is for them to pay for as little as they have to on this experience and spread cancer awareness and hope that people will donate,” her mother explained.
Two vans — one for water, one for food — were provided and the riders each take turns driving and taking a rest from the bike.
“They’re told from day one that they’re never forced to ride,” Willard said. Accommodations and precautions are taken for those who may fall ill, become injured or if the temperatures are just too high, such as one day that reached 115 degrees in Arizona.
Some minor injuries have taken place, and plenty of flat tires, according to Chris Willard. “It’s dangerous,” she added, adding that there has been one casualty.
Each team also undertakes service days, in which they perform community enrichment activities such as visiting children at a nearby hospital, delivering chemotherapy bags or any other needed service that the town or city in which they are working might need.
The foundation distributes scholarships to students that have been affected by cancer in some way. As a chosen judge, Willard was responsible for reading essays and choosing the scholarship recipients.
“She’s always been one of those kids that had to do something for others,” Willard said, about her daughter. “I foresee her now getting involved in some way with a not-for-profit agency.” She added that her daughter is looking to become an accountant for a not-for-profit agency, after she graduates.
Through triumphant and struggling situations, there is a bonding element to the 4K ride.
“I don’t know how she’s going to say goodbye to these kids,” Willard said.
For further information about 4K For Cancer and the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, visit 4kforcancer.org.
For more information on Team San Diego and its progress, visit www.facebook.com/pages/4K-for-Cancer-Team-Sa n-Diego-2014/510774835698548.