Buckeye Bus Driver Gives Big Lift to Pelotonia Team

Tom and Paula Malaska

This blog post began life as a story about the Team Buckeye member who sold the most Pelotonia raffle tickets, but quickly evolved into a love story that illustrates why so many people are determined to ride their bikes and raise money to end cancer.

Tom Malaska, who drives a CABS bus around Ohio State’s campus and has been a Pelotonia rider since 2013, sold $2,670 worth of raffle tickets to lead Team Buckeye in 2017. He said the grand prize – President’s Club season tickets to all home football games – made selling the raffle tickets ($15 each, three for $30) pretty darn easy. 

“I tell people I’m riding in Pelotonia and raising money for cancer research by selling raffle tickets,” he said, adding that he always keeps a pack in his pocket. “Then I tell them the grand prize is season football tickets and… jackpot!”

The Team Buckeye total from the sale of raffle tickets was $88,306, which has helped this super peloton raise more than $2 million and counting this year (Pelotonia fundraising for 2017 ends October 6). Every dollar raised funds cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). The grand total raised during Pelotonia’s nine-year run is more than $147 million and should surpass $150 million.

Malaska, 62, rides in memory of his wife, Paula Garrett-Malaska, who passed away on September 17, 2006, a few months after she was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Paula worked at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for 22 years, first as a nurse and then as an administrator. Tom spent more than 30 years in the beer-distribution business before starting his second career as a CABS driver six years ago.

Tom and Paula grew up together in Mansfield, Ohio and attended elementary, middle and high school together, often sitting near one other in class. They lived about a mile apart. “We were always friends and never dated,” Tom explained. 

They lost touch after high school, but reconnected more than 20 years later, began seeing more and more of each other, and were married in 2003. “On our wedding day, I told Paula I’d been waiting all my life for the perfect woman and was glad I had finally found her,” said Tom, who still wears his wedding band.

Staying busy driving a CABS bus, training for and riding in Pelotonia and the support of his family and friends helps Tom with the grieving process. He’s also part of the crew that wires up the Ohio State football coaches with the headsets they use to communicate with one another during home games. Tom is an outgoing, people-person kind of guy who loves to chat, laugh and share stories and memories. He still gets emotional when he talks about Paula. 

Raising money to support life-saving research also brings purpose to his life.

In 2013, Tom raised money by selling cycling socks. He sold about 500 pairs for $10 each, and every year they can still be spotted on several Pelotonia riders.

“One day (in 2013), I saw Dr. Caligiuri and I had the prototype of the socks with me,” Tom said of his chance encounter with the director of the OSUCCC, CEO of The James and Pelotonia pioneer. “I asked him what he thought, and he said they were fantastic and that as soon as I got them, ‘Count me in for five pairs.’ It snowballed from there and everyone started calling them the Caligiuri socks because he wore them all the time.” 

Tom rides on the Team Buckeye – Team Head and Neck peloton, which had 57 members this year. One of the riders is Amit Agrawal, MD, a member of Ohio State’s Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Agrawal was the surgeon who operated on Paula.

“I’ve gotten to know him on training rides and we’ve become friends,” Tom said. 

“Everyone has their story,” Tom said, and then described one he heard a few years ago. He had just completed the 100-mile ride from Columbus to Gambier and started talking with a friendly volunteer.