Pelotonia 16 Riders May Push 8-Year Fundraising Total Past $125 Million

The thousands of riders, virtual riders and volunteers who attended the Aug. 5 opening ceremony for Pelotonia 16—the annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State— saw living proof that Pelotonia is paying off.

For 16 years, Susan Davenport of northern Virginia has been battling cancer, first stage IV lymphoma, then sarcoma and now leukemia. When OSUCCC Director and James CEO Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, called her to center stage and introduced her as a special guest, she told the audience that, after 16 years of fighting—and enduring some difficult cancer treatment during that span—she was tired in body and spirit and had decided to stop all therapy.

“I was just tired…sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” she recalls. “So I made the decision to quit treatment, no matter what the cost. Instead of letting me quit, my oncologist talked me into trying a new approach—a drug that could be taken orally and that had shown great promise and didn’t have all of the horrible side effects. I agreed to try the drug, and it changed my life.”

The drug, called ibrutinib, was approved in February 2014 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for certain patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Much of the clinical and basic science research that led to FDA approval of ibrutinib for treating CLL was conducted at the OSUCCC – James under the leadership of John C. Byrd, MD, Amy Johnson, PhD, and their colleagues, and much of their ibrutinib research was supported by Pelotonia funds.

Caligiuri had called Byrd and Johnson to the Pelotonia 16 opening-ceremony stage moments before summoning Davenport. He prefaced their arrival by noting that ibrutinib—the first drug designed to target a protein that is essential for CLL-cell survival and proliferation—leads to durable remissions with tolerable side effects in most patients who receive it.

“More than 90 percent of the people who take this pill go into remission and stay in remission,” Caligiuri said.

Davenport told the audience that it wasn’t until after she and her partner Gary registered to ride in Pelotonia 16, their first time participating in this internationally renowned event, that she learned about Ohio State’s extensive role in research leading to FDA approval of “my miracle drug…the drug that completely changed my cancer experience” and “literally gave me my life back.”

She added that, before registering for Pelotonia, “I had absolutely zero idea of the personal debt that I owe to Pelotonia and the OSUCCC – James. I’m here on this stage because of you. A decision you made to get on a bicycle and go for a ride, and raise a few dollars for a great cause while you were at it, is responsible for saving a life—my life!

“How can I put into words what this ride and each of you…mean to me?” Davenport continued. “Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s all I have, so thank you, each of you, from the bottom of my heart and those of my family and friends.

“Next year, five years, 10 years from now,” she predicted, “someone else will be standing on this stage telling the story of a life saved because of what this community of people accomplished this weekend.”

At this writing, riders, virtual riders and donors in Pelotonia 16 had raised more than $17 million, a total that continued to rise until fundraising ended on Oct. 7. At last report in early October, it was anticipated that funds generated by this year’s tour will boost the eight-year Pelotonia total to more than $125 million, every dollar of which directly supports cancer research thanks to the event’s major funding partners, including L Brands, Huntington, and Peggy and Richard Santulli.

Pelotonia 16, which encompassed assorted bike routes between the Columbus area and Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, consisted of 275 registered pelotons (riding groups) that collectively contained 7,749 riders from 40 states and eight countries. It also benefitted from more than 2,600 virtual riders and over 2,700 volunteers.

The audience at the opening ceremony also heard from keynote speaker Chris Draft, a former National Football League player whose wife Lakeasha Rutledge Draft died of lung cancer in 2011 at age 38.

Chris and Lakeasha created Team Draft during her year-long battle with cancer, according to the Team Draft website, “in hopes that her valiant fight to live, love, laugh and smile will give hope and comfort to people around the world. Team Draft is working to save lives by changing the face of lung cancer.”

Chris Draft, who rode 50 miles in Pelotonia 16, emphasized the importance of investing in cancer research because this disease in its many forms “can happen to anyone. And you guys are doing something about it. By raising money for research, you are giving people more time, more hope, and a whole bunch of life.

“You’re sending a strong message to cancer: that cancer is in trouble, that the people who came here today aren’t playing…They came here to end cancer.”

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