I just got back from my 14th Livestrong Ride for the Roses in Austin. It’s a huge fundraiser weekend, and in the past has boasted thousands of bike riders, a 5k, celebrities, huge and very visible sponsors, millions of dollars raised, and last, and probably most, Lance Armstrong. When RftR stopped being Lance’s event, most of those thousands of riders, the 5k, the uber sponsors, and much of the millions of dollars vanished. What’s left is a strong and growing core group of people passionate about bringing cancer services to the 32 million fighting cancer now. That, of course, includes yours truly (on both fronts, thank you very much). What I found this weekend was a very different RftR weekend, but one that was even more full of hope and passion and love.
Some things, of course, never change. That would include my first stop at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop (more specifically Juan Pelota, the coffee shop in back) for a Mocha Azteca. This is a mocha spiced up with chili powder. You never know exactly how spicy it’s going to be until you feel your mouth on fire (or not). It was dialed in this year, though: I had two.
And even though the field of food trucks has been cleared for yet another high rise hotel, Hey Cupcake is still on South Congress. Pumpkinator with graham cracker icing, thank you very much.
Our first event was a President’s Circle reception with many longtime supporters and Livestrong staff and CEO (for 2 more months) Doug Ulman. It is so great to check in with friends I don’t see often, but have a deep connection with. From there, it was on to the first Big New thing. For the first time ever, Livestrong held The Big C Competition a competition for innovators and entrepreneurs working on great patient-centered projects. The best ones would get grants to push their projects forward. I helped judge the opening round of around 700 entries. The top 5 were honored Friday night. The winner, Decisive Health, has created an online tool to help patients and doctors put together customized treatment options. Brilliant. But all of the entries’ collective vision is inspiring and amazing, and it’s encouraging to see how many great minds are working to make cancer treatment easier to bear. It’s also fantastic, though not surprising, that Livestrong is on the cutting edge of developing more patient-centered care options.
Also new this year was having our awards dinner at the Circuit of the Americas, the F1 track in Austin. A very cool and very appropriate venue, I thought. We had a ball and celebrated those at the forefront of bringing in about a half-million dollars with this Challenge event. It was also CEO Doug Ulman’s last Livestrong Awards Dinner. After 14 years, he is going to head up Pelotonia, an exploding cycling event that’s raised $61 million in just 5 years for Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. It’s a great move for him and his family (although I can’t wait to see photos of him in a coat in Columbus in the winter), but it makes me sad that he’s leaving the helm of Livestrong. I don’t remember a Livestrong without Doug. What he’s done with the foundation, through those multimillion dollar years, through the crisis years, and now in the rebuilding/redirecting/changing years has been nothing less than superb. There’s not enough time nor are there enough words to tell him how grateful I am for what he’s done.
In the past, the ride itself has been freezing, broiling, rainy, humidy, windy, and long. And hard. This year, it was perfect. Overcast and about 65 degrees at the start. And without a bunch of knuckleheads trying as hard as they can to catch Lance at the start, the ride was civilized and nothing but fun.
Our little team of Will, Mona, Chris, Bryan, Michelle, and I did the 65-mile buffet. That means we stopped at pretty much every sag stop, because I wanted to shop and find this:
Finishing this ride is always emotional. The Livestrong folks get what it means for a cancer survivor to cross a finish line. They are there handing out yellow roses at the finish with loud cheers and huge grins, every time.
The last big change was, arguably the coolest for me and for at least 15 others, namely my Survivor Summit teammates. You may remember that Marc Middleton, my longtime friend and the CEO of Growing Bolder, shot a documentary when we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro back in February. He and the brilliant crew at GB (Props, Mike, the doc’s gifted editor!) premiered the documentary Sunday night to a packed house in Austin. We had laughed that we’d hoped it wouldn’t be a case of showing folks your vacation videos. We’d be rapt, and everyone else would be heading for the bar… No worry about that. Marc and Mike put together a powerful, beautiful, breathtaking, inspiring piece of work. The fact that the whole team (except for Robert, whom we missed terribly) got to relive the experience together and really see what we accomplished was indescribable. (The other movie showing at the theater was Night of the Living Dead. Watching ourselves on summit night, there were times the two film titles could have been interchangeable. Just saying.) If you’ve not seen the movie, the DVDs are available at ConqueringKilimanjaro.com. There’s also a Florida premiere coming up December 3.
As for me, I’m still feeling good, still no symptoms from the TC recurrence. Of course, when I asked the docs what the symptoms would be, they were unanimously VAGUE. So onward I go, off to Wilmington to swim an iron distance triathlon relay for PPD, a clinical trial development company this weekend. But as I still feel good right now, I am more concerned with monitoring my friend, Stuart Scott, who as you know is fighting the beast again and has been living through darker days recently. I am sending him all the power and light and love and passion that I collected this weekend because I think he needs it all more than I do right now. I expect if and when the tables turn, he’ll send it all back to me. That’s what friends are for.