Riding for the HEALTH of It

Joel Mayerson, MD, director of Musculoskeletal Oncology at the OSUCCC – James, had ridden a bike as a teenager, and every so often after that. He made the decision to ride when the first Pelotonia ride was announced in 2009. “I got out the mountain bike that I’d had as a teenager and rode the 50-mile route,” Mayerson says.

“It was fantastic being out there and seeing colleagues, staff and even patients riding,” he says. But Mayerson is a big guy, and he was bigger then, weighing some 325 lbs. “I completed the 50 miles, but I about died. It was really challenging.”

Mayerson had another reason for getting his bike out and riding, too. His son, Drew, 13, had been diagnosed with type I diabetes earlier that year. “I wanted to set a good example for him,” Mayerson says.

He resolved to get into shape. He went on a low-carbohydrate diet, and, after trading his mountain bike for a hybrid model, he began training and trimming down for his son and for Pelotonia 2010.

He rode about 1,500 miles in training rides and lost 80 pounds. The 50-mile Pelotonia route was no problem in 2010. He also organized a sarcoma peloton, or riding group, of four or five people.

Looking ahead to Pelotonia 11, he set out to tackle the 100-mile ride. He clocked about 3,000 miles in training rides in preparation. When the time came, he succeeded with little problem and repeated the ride for Pelotonia 12.

But his 2011 century ride was especially memorable, Mayerson says. “It was fantastic. It was the first time in my life I’d ridden a hundred miles. I was 42 years old, I’d trained for it, and I kept up with my partner who was eight years younger.” His sarcoma peloton had grown to 18 members and included two patients and a cancer survivor.

The community support was energizing, he says. “The ride is amazing. Sixty and seventy miles out, you pass people along the road with signs that say things like ‘Thanks for riding’ and ‘Thanks for making a difference.’

“It’s a six-and-a-half or seven-hour ride, and when you’re tired, it’s pretty cool to see those signs and the people cheering you on.”

Pelotonia is meaningful in many ways for Mayerson.

From a personal standpoint, it helped him adopt a healthy lifestyle. “I’ve ridden close to 8,000 miles since I began training,” he says. “It’s gotten many people involved in a healthier lifestyle and gotten corporations involved in getting their employees out and exercising.”

And it brings the community together to fight cancer. “One of every two or three of us is going to get cancer. Pelotonia raises cancer awareness – thousands of people may have learned about sarcoma who otherwise might not have – and it raises dollars to cure cancer so that maybe someday we won’t have to worry about it.”

It’s good for the city’s economy, he says, and it raises awareness about the city of Columbus. “People who pass through Port Columbus see the Pelotonia banners and want to know more about it. They will learn something about the city that might bring them back.”

Even the word “Pelotonia” stirs curiosity. “I’ve worn my Pelotonia shirt to scientific meetings in San Francisco and elsewhere, and I can be at Starbucks and someone will ask me what it means. It’s an interesting word,” he says.

“I think what’s most amazing is the community spirit that in four years has created the largest charity bicycle event in terms of riders in the United States. We’ve gone from 2,250 riders to 6,200 riders in four short years. It shows how wonderful our community is.”

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