Kelsey Aubrey is amazed by the support. She knew people cared about the fight against cancer, but her trials with the Texas 4000 have made something else even more apparent.
To Aubrey, a sophomore at the University of Texas, the 4,000-mile bike trek from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, is both uplifting and sad. But the former outweighs the latter.
“People are so willing to give for cancer research that it means they’ve probably been touched by cancer,” Aubrey said. “The goal we’re hoping for is that no one ever has to deal with this disease again.” Since Saturday, the Texas 4000 — a group of students from UT that is biking north in the name of cancer awareness — has encountered numerous people who have been touched by the disease. Even in Ardmore, where the group made its annual overnight stop Thursday at St. Mary Catholic Church, cancer stories emerged in the form of coincidence.
The group started its ride from Gainesville to Ardmore around 9 a.m. Thursday. Coming into Ardmore, the students ran into some trouble, as their equipment trailer got stuck in some deep mud about 5 miles south of the city limits.
When the owner of the property through which they were riding came to their aid, the Texas 4000 group found out that his wife is a lung cancer survivor.
“We always hope it’s a survivor situation, but we’re out here because we know not everyone survives,” Aubrey said. “That’s why we keep doing what we do.”
The Texas 4000's mission is in its 10th year. Started in 2004 by UT students, each edition ushers in new riders who are carefully selected 18 months prior to their send-off. The 10-year anniversary was recognized with an expansion to three routes - Sierras, Rockies and Ozarks - with 69 riders participating.
The trip spans 70 days through states, provinces and small towns like Ardmore. Today, the Rockies group will ride to Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, then rest Saturday before getting back on the road.
Each student has his or her own story. Each has a motivation to be on the road that supersedes torrid or rain-soaked weather conditions, and puts them face-to-face with the dangers of cycling.
For one, there are simple injuries. Less than a day into the trip, Khoi Truong had his right arm in a sling after breaking his clavicle in a fall. That didn't stop him from getting out on the road with his teammates.
Truong, 22, expects to be back on a bike in a few weeks.
"We're here for a mission, which is to raise money for cancer, spread hope, knowledge and charity about cancer awareness," Truong said. "This is just a minor setback. Instead of being out there on a bike, I can be here for my team in a different way." The other matter comes with the weather. The string of deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma the past three weeks has the Texas 4000 on alert, but hasn't diverted its course, pace or goal.
Aubrey said the group doesn't take chances with the weather, and is appreciative of the donations and housing that have been provided to the group throughout.
"We've been really blessed with all the donations people have been giving us," Aubrey said. "Every dollar we don't spend goes toward cancer research, and that's our main mission." The Texas 4000's mission hasn't been deterred by anything, thus far. Ten, long bike rides later, it's still going strong in the fight against cancer.
"It is so cool, because here we've got people from different backgrounds, and they're all riding together for one cause," St. Mar y office manager Joan Price said. "We've got a world full of everybodys, but we are one world." To learn more about the Texas 4000, its riders and how to contribute, log on to www.texas4000.org. Follow Horne on Twitter:@ekhorneARD.