Loss Leads to Purpose for Pelotonia COO

Pelotonias Miguel Perez  OSUCCC James

When Miguel Perez first heard rumblings of people organizing a three-day bike ride through multiple cities in Ohio to raise money for cancer, he thought, “Maybe these folks are overly ambitious.”

But fast forward 10 years, and Pelotonia has more than proven that when a community comes together, great things happen.

What started as a grassroots event to raise funds for The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) quickly turned into an annual event that since 2009 has raised more than $161 million for cancer research.

Perez, who took over as Pelotonia’s chief operating officer in spring 2017, couldn’t be more proud.

“I’ve been in awe,” he says. “The community built this; corporations and individuals are committed. Everyone plays nicely in Columbus, which makes this a great place to be.”

Being part of Pelotonia is very personal for Perez, who has lost three siblings and a sister-in-law to cancer. Over the past 25 years, he has volunteered or worked in a number of capacities to raise money for cancer research and awareness. Prior to joining Pelotonia he served in two executive roles for Susan G. Komen, the largest nonprofit fundraising resource for breast cancer.

Because of major sponsors, including L Brands, Huntington Bank and Peggy and Richard Santulli, every Pelotonia dollar raised by riders, virtual riders and volunteers goes to cancer research at the OSUCCC – James .

This year, on the event’s 10th anniversary, Perez says Pelotonia hopes to raise $30 million. And that’s just from the bike ride. More than 8,000 riders are expected in August, representing 50 states and 10 countries.

Funds raised from a new group of people will play an even bigger role this year as the organization is rolling out an app called PULLL to bring in additional  monies that individuals can raise by tracking their activities, like walking and running, among others.

“The app tracks their activity and unlocks dollars for cancer research,” Perez says, explaining that people can share their activity on social media and get “boosts” from friends in the form of “micro donations.” The public reserve of dollars is currently underwritten by Lilly Oncology. Other companies, which have yet to be announced, will also be coming on board in the coming months, he says.

Friends or colleagues can give you a boost of $3, for example, and pay using a credit card, ApplePay or a number of other money-transferring options. Companies can also create their own private reserves through PULLL in which employees can participate to fund cancer research.

The app is named for the action taken by the lead rider in a peloton, which is a group of riders. The lead rider “pulls” the others as they follow, breaking through the resistance. “The third L stands for one more cure, one more mile, one more breakthrough, and going above and beyond,” Perez says.

All of the monies from PULLL will go to the OSUCCC – James, but there will also be opportunities for collaborating in joint ventures and finding ideas with the best merit, Perez says.

“This is so much more than a bike ride,” he adds.

Perez says Pelotonia is essential when it comes to funding new cancer treatments, ideas and methods to market faster.

“It fills the funding gaps that can take two or more years, sometimes, to be approved for federal dollars,” Perez says.

Pelotonia has funded numerous local cancer research projects, including more than 110 research team projects (called Idea Grants) since its inception. It’s been instrumental in funding three statewide separate cancer research and awareness initiatives for lung cancer, colon cancer and endometrial cancer studies.

The fellowship program, which funds promising student cancer research projects, is near and dear to Pelotonia. “We’re excited about what these small investments in great minds will turn out,” Perez says.

The fellowship program has invested more than $13 million in 440 undergraduate, graduate, professional and postdoctoral researchers working on their own ideas in the form of one- and two-year awards so they can fully immerse themselves in their research, which is supervised by faculty mentors.

Looking forward, Perez says he expects Pelotonia to invest more heavily in immunotherapy cancer research and clinical trials at the OSUCCC – James. Ongoing funding for cancer awareness and prevention will continue to be emphasized, he adds.

As for duplicating the bike ride elsewhere?

“It would be hard to duplicate this ride elsewhere, because of just how special Columbus and our entire community are, but that’s not to say we won’t,” Perez says.

“Imagine all of the permits required and hoops they had to jump through to make this happen,” he half jokes, referring to when the ride was just a concept in the minds of forward-thinking leaders in cancer research and in the community.

Were the original organizers overly ambitious? Maybe a little. Perhaps visionary, motivated, connected and passionate would better describe Pelotonia and its supporters.

“Once we all get our arms around the fact that we are more than a bike ride, it will open up so much more for the organization and the future,” Perez says.

The long-term goal, he says, is “to bring as many people together from as many different channels as possible to do great things and make the world a better place. Easy, right?”

Pelotonia 18 will take place Aug. 3-5. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit pelotonia.org.