Government funding for cancer has been flat in recent years, despite the fact that one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetime. As Director of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center and distinguished research physician, Mike Caligiuri recognized the need to expand current research funding. Inspired by the broad success of grassroots initiatives supporting other nationally based cancer programs, Mike Caligiuri and cancer survivor Tom Lennox rode 163 miles in the summer of 2008 across Cape Cod in support of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. The experience created a strong bond between the two. Later that fall, Lennox resigned from Abercrombie & Fitch and took the helm at Columbus based Pelotonia.
The model of Pelotonia remains simple: Pelotonia’s operating expenses are covered by funding partners so that 100% of every dollar raised by Pelotonia riders, virtual riders and volunteers goes directly to fund cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. Pelotonia was initially funded with a five-year, $12.5 million commitment, with a goal to raise $39 million during this time period.
Challenged by a difficult economy, Pelotonia was forced to restructure and find new funding partners after the first ride in 2009. Up to the plate stepped the Limited Brands Foundation, Huntington Bank and the Richard and Peggy Santulli Foundation. Soon after, American Electric Power Foundation and Nationwide Insurance also made significant multi-year funding commitments.
Huntington Chief Executive Officer Stephen Steinour called the bank’s decision to get involved an easy one and said Pelotonia “has created a rallying point we didn’t fully expect” that has changed the company’s culture for the better.
“Seeing the supporters all along the ride holding up signs made each pedal and each mile easier to deal with,” said cancer survivor and Pelotonia rider Matt Hare. “Pelotonia is something that I will continue to do every year.”
Making the experience special for every rider is Tom’s mission. “It’s all about delivering an emotional and first class experience,” he said. “And it’s not just the three-day weekend of the ride, but throughout the entire year—and that mindset manifests itself in everything we do. If we pull that off, the fundraising takes care of itself and then it’s on Mike to find a cure.”
In its first four rides, Pelotonia has attracted over 11,100 riders and raised over $42 million for cancer research.