The Story Behind The Ride: A Pelotonia Fellow Recounts Pelotonia 16

Marlena Ryba Pelotonia 16

This blog post was written by Marlena Ryba, a postdoctoral Pelotonia Fellow at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

Wow! What a ride! I’m happy to report that my first Pelotonia has been a tremendous success! As I slowly regain feeling in my legs, I wanted to take a moment to share my Pelotonia journey and express my sincere gratitude for the support I received.

As you probably already know, Pelotonia is a grassroots bike ride that raises millions of dollars each year for cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Pelotonia is a two-day bike ride with routes ranging from 25 to 180 miles. Being a first-time Rider and coming to the realization that I’m no longer in my prime years of athleticism, I opted for the 25-mile ride, and with your support, I reached my fundraising goal!

I should mention that my Pelotonia journey began before I ever got on my bike or began that first mile. It started sometime last summer when I came across an announcement for the Pelotonia Postdoctoral Fellowship Award. I had been looking into the possibility of conducting a study examining a computerized psychological treatment for cancer patients with depression, but without funding to support the project, it would likely remain just another scribbled idea in my notebook. I began working on the application around the clock. I needed to convince the committee that this was important and would not only provide a significant contribution to understanding and addressing the clinical needs of cancer patients but also lead to improvements in current healthcare practices.

After numerous revisions and some sleepless nights, I submitted my application. A few months later, on September 22, I received a congratulatory email informing me that I was a recipient of the Postdoctoral Fellowship Award! That’s when the real work began! Getting a research study off the ground is no small feat; and, as is often the case in research, there were many challenges and some setbacks. When I needed some inspiration, I was reminded of the OSUCCC – James Director and CEO Dr. Michael Caligiuri’s address to Pelotonia Fellows. “We’re betting on you,” he said. That statement resonated with me and serves as a reminder of how impactful my research can be in the lives of cancer patients. It’s quite the responsibility to take on, but one that I am honored to carry.

Marlena Ryba Pelotonia 16 Opening Ceremony

Fast forward to Friday night — the opening ceremony for Pelotonia. I proudly wore my “Thank you! My research is supported by Pelotonia” T-shirt. I couldn’t believe how many people turned out for the event. As I made my way through the crowd, I was approached by a woman who noticed my shirt. She asked about my research and thanked me for my work. We hugged. I walked away and thought to myself, “She’s betting on me.”

Saturday morning I joined thousands of riders in downtown Columbus, eager to get started. As I listened for my group to be called into the chute, I started to get anxious — it was that feeling you get when you’re on a rollercoaster slowly creeping uphill before the first drop. Before I knew it, I was at the starting line and off we went. At mile 1, I began to have regrets. “Why didn’t I start training earlier? I should have gotten a better bike. Why am I the only one out of breath?” Thankfully, the adrenaline (and panic) worked in my favor and I kept pedaling.

At mile 12, the rest stop was a welcoming sight. I refueled and continued on toward the finish line (approximately 13 miles away). Surprisingly, I felt great!

The second half was less forgiving with a higher hill around every corner. But I kept pedaling. Everyone was so encouraging. Riders provided words of encouragement, usually as they passed me, and people lined the streets, clapping and cheering us on the whole way. Once I reached Pickerington, I was welcomed by a group of cheerleaders yelling, “You can do it!” Others had their arms extended toward me, offering water or simply wanting a high five. Their kind gestures were heartwarming and touching. Luckily, I was drenched with sweat and able to camouflage my tears as I rode past them.

As I neared the finish line, the hills got steeper, but I was determined not to stop. I pedaled as hard as I could. An older gentleman wearing a “Survivor” jersey passed me. Seeing me struggle, he said, “We’re almost there. You got it!” I followed his lead and we made it to the finish line victorious!

Pelotonia weekend was an unforgettable experience. I am so humbled to be a part of the fundraising and the research that it supports. And I couldn’t have done it without my donors! I am so grateful for their support and generosity. Thank you all for supporting Pelotonia’s One Goal: End Cancer!

To learn more about the Pelotonia Fellowship program, visit our website.

Read more stories from Pelotonia 16 on our blog.

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