I have participated in Pelotonia since its inception. Compelled by its transformative goal to end cancer, I signed up for the first year of this grassroots cycling event in 2009 but personal commitments, including two weeks of jury duty, kept me off my bike. I’ve trained and ridden in the subsequent six years, five of those tackling the hills and heat to ride one hundred miles in one day, first to Athens, then to Kenyon College in Gambier. I’ve developed close relationships with fellow cyclists, communicated regularly with loyal donors, ridden to breathtaking destinations. During the numerous hours and miles of training over Ohio’s country roads during the last few years, I even visualized parts of my recent novel, my mind traveling to the open fields of eastern Poland during World War II.
Pelotonia has been a community, a cause, a sport and an experience for me. Over the past six months, however, I have been grappling with what to do about my troublesome right hip—an issue that I contained for more than a decade with anti-inflammatories and no-impact exercise. As it worsened, I finally decided to replace my hip and commit to rehabilitation. I had to tell my donors that I would not be a rider this year.
But my commitment to Pelotonia is unchanged. Just because I couldn’t ride, I could still raise money as a Virtual Rider. I had heard there were thousands of Virtual Riders. Who are they?
According to the Pelotonia office, some are not comfortable getting on bikes but care about the cause. Some will be out of town and just can’t ride that weekend in early August. Some don’t meet the minimum age requirement of 14, but want to be part of this caring community. And some, like me, have bad joints or injuries that sideline their ride.
Susanne Kondracke, who rode with me on Team Bexley, became a Virtual Rider just a month before Pelotonia 2011 when she suffered a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus of her knee during a tennis match. “My goal that first year was to attend opening ceremonies,” Susanne said. “It was my first official outing, just days after my first surgery.”
I remember training with Susanne the following year, as she was hopeful she’d be able to ride for 2012, but she ended up needing yet another surgery (her fourth) and missed that event as well. “I continued to get the message out,” Susanne told me. She has supported this mission each year in memory of her dad. “To me, Pelotonia is fundraising first, and then it’s a bike ride.”
Not everyone is a natural fundraiser. Some Virtual Riders are folks who are uncomfortable fund raising and the $100 minimum is less daunting. To them, I say, don’t be shy in asking for donations. You’re not asking for yourself; you are asking for the many people stricken with this disease and for the dedicated researchers who are seeking a cure.
Given the support I received from hundreds of people in prior years, I decided that this minimum was not acceptable. I told my donors that my goal was to raise at least a hundred times that minimum. Yes, that’s $10,000. My supporters responded almost immediately. To date, I am 64% to my personal goal.
Linda Kass is a member of Team Bexley and Vice Chair of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees. Her debut novel, Tasa’s Song, inspired by her mother’s life in eastern Poland during World War II, was published in May.