Pelotonia is a grassroots bike tour with one goal: to end cancer
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10-Year Pelotonia Volunteer: Mary Henkel

10-Year Pelotonia Volunteer: Mary Henkel

3,042.  That’s the number of volunteers it took in 2017 to make Pelotonia Ride weekend happen.

All riders, at some point, interacted with one of the 3,042 volunteers.  Volunteers are the reason Pelotonia weekend runs as smoothly as it does, and the reason all riders feel safe, informed, taken care of and can enjoy those famous and delicious PB&J sandwiches that have never tasted so good.  Without volunteers, Pelotonia, just wouldn’t be possible.

Pelotonia volunteers come from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and experiences, and each has their own reason for volunteering.   We recently talked to Mary Henkel, who has been volunteering since year one.  Water stops, food prep, table set up – you name it – she’s done it.  She even helped a rider complete her distance when she couldn’t physically ride anymore, by walking with her all the way to the finish line.

But why is Mary so passionate about Pelotonia?  She has two very important reasons.  Her son, Fran Larkin, and her husband, Patrick Larkin.

Fran Mary Patrick end of city year 2010


Fran was a biology major at The Ohio State University.  He was also a volunteer and employee at the Richard Ross Heart Hospital.  He was an active member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and actively involved in his fraternity’s charity Casino Night to raise money for The James.

In the spring of 2009, Fran was just graduating when he was diagnosed with lymphoma.  “As a mother hearing that your son has cancer, you just want to sweep him up and bring him home I wanted him by my side during treatment. I wanted to be there to help and take care of him.”  But Fran had another plan – he insisted on staying in Columbus to go to The James, as he told his Mom, “for the best treatment possible.”

Fran’s awareness, energy, and enthusiasm set the tone for how he wanted his journey to play out. He had confidence in the James and he knew that’s where he wanted to be. He, also, saw his diagnosis as something much bigger than himself. Mary recalls Fran saying “it’s hard to feel depressed about it (the diagnosis).  Let’s figure out what’s wrong so we can do something to help others who have this.”

Fran was determined to conquer his cancer, help others through his journey, and to try and live a “normal” life.  Fran received treatments at the James through the summer and fall, and radiation therapy that winter.  He would go home to Cincinnati on weekends to rest and recover.. (This made mom happy) But, he made it a point to be back in Columbus on Mondays, to work for City Year, an Americorps program, determined to help children at Weinland Park Elementary and keep moving forward and living as normal a life as he could.

Throughout Fran’s journey, Mary was learning more and more about the James and about Pelotonia. She became hooked and knew she had to do something. So, Mary decided to participate in Pelotonia and rally the family to do so, as well. She remembers saying to the family, “It’s a family cause at this point!  Let’s try it.”

That first year, Mary, her husband Patrick and even Fran, all volunteered.  Fran was “pale, hairless, and fragile, but he wanted to volunteer while going through his chemo treatments.”  Mary remembers meeting Dr. Caliguiri and Lance Armstrong, both participating as riders that that first year.  She was able to tell them both about Fran’s experience at the James, and Fran promised them that he would be riding the following year.

Fran wasn’t lying.  Only 6 months out of his treatment, he participated as a rider in Pelotonia 10 and rode 100 miles. That year, Mary remembers finishing her volunteer shift with her husband, Patrick, and going to cheer on Fran at the finish line.

“It started to rain lightly.  All of the sudden it felt like every emotion I had had over the past year was compressed into one day.  There we were, standing at the finish line, waiting for him to make it through.  It felt just like it did when his treatments started and all we needed to do was see him reach the finish line.  It was pretty emotional for me.”  Fran finished. They celebrated. It was about much more than simply riding a bike for 100 miles.

Today, Fran is happily married, healthy, and continues to ride in Pelotonia with his wife cheering him on along the way.

Mary’s second reason to stay involved?  Patrick, her husband, who was diagnosed in 2014 with gastroesophageal cancer.  Patrick’s cancer was not as common as Fran’s, and there wasn’t as much research or information available.

Sadly, Patrick’s cancer was too advanced, and he passed away 14 months after his diagnosis.

Although Patrick isn’t here to volunteer with her anymore, Mary has recruited multiple family members including her daughter-in-law, and even her sister-in-law (who travels from Alaska) to participate in Pelotonia. For Mary, having the family there to support the cause and cancer research means the world.  The icing on the cake is to be surrounded by her co-workers, as well.

Mary’s all-time favorite memory is from 2014 when she watched her husband and son ride off on the Pelotonia course together (although Fran went 100 miles after riding with his dad for the opening 25.

Mary is a huge advocate of the James.  “I’m so happy that I have learned so much about The James and I have been able to talk to so many different people about the excellent facility and research that is happening there.   I want people to be aware, so they can participate in trials, and get the treatment they need.  I’m always happy to share that information with them and our family’s experience. I owe them Fran’s life.”



If you’re interested in donating to Mary or Fran‘s fundraising commitments, please feel free!

We would love to hear from our other volunteers and their stories for volunteering for Pelotonia.  Every person’s story is different, but they all come together for our one goal. Please email your story to

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1 Comment

  1. Molly - April 16, 2018

    Go Mary!! I couldn’t imagining volunteering without you. Thanks for all your years giving back to this great cause

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