Mark Zehnder PortraitAfter being diagnosed with prostate cancer in May 2013 and having it treated with a robotic prostatectomy at the OSUCCC – James, Marc Zehnder of Vandalia, Ohio, had one goal: to “just go on living” while telling his story to almost no one.

That changed when he attended a March 2014 memorial service for Emily Marsh-Fleming, a former national champion synchronized swimmer and four-time All-American at Ohio State who had lost her battle with metastatic breast cancer. (She was profiled in the spring 2014 issue of Frontiers.)

Zehnder’s wife Kim, a yoga instructor, had met Emily while teaching at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where Emily worked. When Emily indicated that her impending cancer treatment would thwart her yoga routine, Kim offered a private and gentler routine for her at the Zehnder home. Emily followed that routine until three weeks before her death.

Although the Zehnders knew that Emily had ridden in three Pelotonias, Marc says he had never considered riding until the day of Emily’s service.

“My inspiration came when her husband, Scott, their family and others told of Emily’s life and accomplishments as an athlete, of her battle with cancer and what riding in Pelotonia meant to her,” Zehnder recalls. “They made it clear she would want others to carry on the fight. Kim and I also wanted to make a difference in someone’s life, as Emily’s story continues to do.”

So his goal to silently go on living morphed into Pelotonia’s “One Goal” to end cancer. Pelotonia 18 marks the Zehnders’ fifth year as riders. In the first four, they raised more than $35,000; this year they’ll raise several thousand more.

“This is a big year for Pelotonia, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and for me,” says Marc, noting that on June 24 he celebrated five years of being cancer-free.

He attributes his outcome to “early diagnosis and the successful surgery and after-care that I received at The James,” where he was monitored as an outpatient for a year before returning to primary care.

Zehnder, 59, rode 100 miles in his first two years and 180 in the next two. This year he rode 180 again. He and Kim are in the Bikers for Brutus peloton, part of Team Buckeye.

“I’ve been blessed with an amazing wife who has supported me through challenging times, and with many family members and friends who have generously donated to this cause,” says Zehnder, who will carry the names of more than 300 people on his ride.

“Our group does an annual fundraiser in which we ask participants to write the names of people who have been touched by cancer,” he explains. “I fold those papers into a bag to carry in my jersey pocket.”

On his ride he thinks of those names often as the miles accumulate. “I think of Emily’s story and of people we’ve met at our events and their stories,” he says. “Then I feel those names I’m carrying and remember that I’m doing this in memory of so many who weren’t as fortunate as I, and in hopes that someday no one will have to do this ride.”

He especially hopes that today’s children, including his granddaughter and great-niece—toddlers Lola and Lucy, respectively—“will never understand the word ‘cancer.’”

Zehnder also is an informational resource for others with prostate cancer.

“Since going public I’ve had inquiries about my treatment choices,” he says. “I share my story with whomever I can. I feel fortunate to have a world-class cancer center virtually in my backyard. I would have traveled thousands of miles for the best treatment. Luckily, I didn’t have to.”

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