Smaller Teams: Cogs in the Wheels of Justice
by Emma Garrison, Alli Gerkman
mong the 200-plus cyclists who comprise the Wheels of Justice Cycling Team, there are riders who are members of smaller teams that have gotten involved so that their fundraising dollars from the Courage Classic can directly benefit Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders — a place where many riders of these sub-teams have a personal connection. Meet six of these sub-teams that continue to turn the Wheels of Justice.
Brent’s Place: A New Team
For Brent’s Place (brentsplace.org), the Courage Classic was a natural fit. Many of its staff and volunteers are cyclists and one of its biggest fundraisers is a 12-hour spin-a-thon. So, it didn’t take much convincing when a member of its board of directors, Dr. Tom Smith, suggested that Brent’s Place participate in the 2012 Courage Classic.
"We felt like the Courage Classic was a great way to support our partner, Children’s Hospital Colorado, and get our supporters together to represent Brent’s Place," said Executive Director Sean Meyerhoffer.
Brent’s Place is the only Children’s Hospital Colorado-approved "safe-clean" housing facility for immune-compromised patients and their families, providing a living environment that is essential to healing and recovery. Brent's Place is designed to offer families safe-clean individualized housing in an environment virtually free from dander, dust, mold, and other infectious agents, bridging the gap between the hospital and going home.
Brent’s Place supports children and families served by Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders every day; teaming up with the Wheels of Justice was an opportunity for to join forces with others committed to supporting the center.
The team is young, but growing. Its members have already seen what makes riders come out and ride again every year. Meyerhoffer described the ride as "energizing and heartwarming."
"It was really great to be a part of something that is bigger than just Brent’s Place and meet others who know of our work and have the same goal in mind — helping families dealing with pediatric cancer," he said.
Crankin’ for Cranios: Fun is the Name of the Game
Cranio is the shorthand for a pediatric brain tumor called craniopharyngioma. Dr. Jacob Gump founded the team in honor of his 6-year-old son Eli, a cranio survivor. Gump rode alone in the 2010 Courage Classic, a year after Eli’s diagnosis, and then recruited four friends to ride with him in 2011. He formed the Crankin’ for Cranios team in 2012. It comprised 10 riders and raised $14,000.
"The team was officially formed last year after I discovered we could ride under the Wheels of Justice umbrella," Gump said.
The Cranios team enjoys being part of the Wheels of Justice community and is happy to see the money they raise go to support the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders directly. The team goal is to raise awareness of pediatric brain tumors and money to support their treatment and research. Gump conducts research on pediatric cancer and has a grant funded by the Morgan Adams Foundation to find better treatments for cranio patients.
"We have made a lot of headway in the last two years and are gearing up to get kids on a clinical trial using an experimental drug possibly as early as this summer," he said.
If the team could sum up their experience at the Courage Classic in one word, it would be "fun."
"We have a great time," Gump said. "Eli has fun hanging out in Copper all weekend and one of his favorite songs is ‘We Are Young’ by the band Fun."
Last year, Eli rode the Sunday family ride on a trailer bike.
"It was amazing for us to have him be a part of it, too," Gump said.
Kick Cancer’s Ass: Much More Than a Kick-Ass Kinda Name
Anyone who has biked the Courage Classic in the last three years has almost surely been motivated by this team’s blunt name: Kick Cancer’s Ass. It connotes the kind of grit you need to push you over that last hill and, more important, the kind of grit that patients of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders tap into every day.
No surprise, then, that it was inspired by patients. Amy Goodner’s daughter, Delaney, was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer in June 2008. She was 13. While in treatment, she and her family met a young man who was being treated for another rare form of childhood cancer. Before he passed away, he asked his mom to share a message with Delaney: "Kick cancer’s butt."
Goodner’s teenage son suggested they make one slight modification, Delaney loved it, and a name was born. "Blunt seems to be in our genes!" Goodner said.
But, when asked to describe the team experience in one word, "grit" and "blunt" didn’t make the list. Teammates suggested "inspirational," "spiritual," and "healing," among others. Objecting to the constraints of a one-word answer, a couple suggested "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "amazinglysuperlificalycommraderishlyawesomenessingfun."
Perhaps sentiments like these have fostered the team’s growth. Kick Cancer’s Ass, which joined Wheels of Justice in 2011 because it wanted its efforts to benefit the CCBD, raised approximately $13,000 the first two years it has been riding in the Courage Classic as a team and bumped that number up to $20,000 last year.
The team kicks off every Courage Classic weekend with a Friday night welcome party at Goodner’s condo to focus on fun and the children whom the ride benefits. In 2012, it started a new tradition.
"It was the first year we rode ‘in memory’ versus ‘in honor’ of Delaney," Goodner said.
Delaney’s fight against cancer ended in December 2011, three-and-a-half years after she was diagnosed. She was 16 years old. But, her spirit lives on through the ride, the team’s camaraderie, and that irreverent name that will carry any rider’s spirit through to the finish line.
Roaring Forks: Connecting Western Slope Cyclists
The Roaring Forks was formed in 2012 as a combination of Team Aspen and Team Glenwood. Among its members is Kelsey Bohman, a rider who beat cancer at Children’s Hospital Colorado and has participated in the Courage Classic for a decade.
"Kelsey seems to be the honorary survivor we ride for, but we are always looking for more kids from our area that have used Children’s to ride or represent us," said Pat Bohman, Kelsey’s mother.
The team boasts about 15 riders from Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Rifle. It joined the Wheels of Justice to contribute directly to the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. "It’s the best of both worlds to raise money for the CCBD and be a part of a team that is totally devoted to the same purpose!" she added.
The team, which knows hilly terrain well, hopes to continue an annual training ride in the mountains for Wheels of Justice members it started in 2012.
Asked the one word that captures the Courage Classic experience, Bohman said, "Heaven. I never dreamed I would be riding 150 miles with my daughter, who could hardly walk the length of a football field 11 years ago because of leukemia, sharing each beautiful mile with both old and new friends, all dedicated to producing more miracles for these kids."
Team Ellie: A Family Affair
Scotty Rolfs founded Team Ellie (teamellie.com) with a group of friends who pulled together to honor his daughter, Ellie, 7, who is three-and-a-half years in remission from a very aggressive form of stage four kidney cancer.
Rolfs learned about the Courage Classic from one of Ellie’s nurses during one of her many stays in the hospital. The team started with Rolfs and five close friends at the 2009 Courage Classic, just over a month after Ellie was declared in remission. Team Ellie has now grown to about 15 riders. Among them in 2012 was Ellie’s older sister Sophie, 10, who rode the 35-mile family ride from Copper to Breckenridge and back. Sophie’s goal is to ride the entire three-day ride in 2014, when she’s 12.
Team Ellie has joined Wheels of Justice for the last three classics.
"We liked the ability to keep our own identity as Team Ellie, but [we also liked knowing] that all of our fundraising [goes] directly to the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders," Rolfs said. Ellie was in treatment for 14 months at CCBD.
"We owe much of Ellie’s survival to the center," Rolfs said. "It is an honor to be able to give back specifically to the place that saved my little girl."
First and foremost, Team Ellie’s participation in the Courage Classic is a family event. The riders bring their families along for the weekend, eat breakfast together every morning, meet up at all the rest stops, and cross the finish line together.
"All of the families wait and cheer us on at the finish each day, which is truly awesome!" Rolfs said.
Team YAPS: Two Wheels and Four Legs
Like most participants in the Courage Classic, Team YAPS (youthandpetsurvivors.org) seeks to raise money for Children’s Hospital Colorado and to raise awareness for a cause. But, Team YAPS is the only team with a dog that rides along.
YAPS is an animal-facilitated therapy program featuring pet pen pals.
Team YAPS first rode in the Courage Classic in 2005. Connie Fredman has had several pen pals with her dogs Boone and Spree. In 2005, one of Boone’s pen pals, a 12-year-old named Anise, was feeling discouraged about undergoing a two-year course of chemotherapy for leukemia. Fredman offered to tow Boone in a bike trailer if Anise rode a tandem bike with a friend of Fredman’s in the Courage Classic. A few other friends joined them and Team YAPS was born.
The team has been riding ever since, with as many as 15 riders in some years. In 2011, Spree took Boone’s place in the bike trailer once Boone’s failing health no longer allowed him to be at altitude. Anise stopped riding after three tours due to a knee problem caused by chemotherapy, but she continues to support Team YAPS.
The YAPS program is based out of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. It matches children undergoing cancer treatment with dogs and cats that are also being treated for cancer or other serious medical issues. Pet owners, in the voices of their animals, write the first letter to the children pen pals, and a relationship develops through the letters they exchange. YAPS even hosts events where the children get to meet their pet pen pal in person.
Anne Gillespie started the YAPS program in November 2001 and in the past two years has focused on developing it as a national and international program by starting chapters at other children’s hospitals.
"Our intention is to get the resources necessary to have a staff, an office, and protocols to support other chapters, allowing YAPS to serve many more pediatric and veterinary oncology patients," Gillespie said.
Team YAPS joined the Wheels of Justice in 2012 to benefit programs and children directly served by YAPS.
In addition to having fun, the team’s riders seek to gain awareness about the YAPS program and the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
"Even though only one or sometimes two team members are YAPS pen pals, we all know the story of YAPS and are proud to share it with anyone who asks," Fredman said. "We have all grown and been inspired by getting to know the YAPS pen pals, both animal and human, and are humbled by their journeys."D
Emma Garrison is an associate at the litigation firm Featherstone Petrie DeSisto LLP and is chair-elect of the CBA Young Lawyers Division. Alli Gerkman is the director of communications at IAALS. The authors both rode the Courage Classic with the Wheels of Justice team for the first time in 2011 and will participate again this year.