Pelotonia is a family affair for Anna Maria Bittoni. Every summer, Anna Maria, her father, mother and younger sister train countless hours together and support each other in preparation for the ride in August. Being part of a Pelotonia family means a lot to her.
Anna Maria’s father Giorgio participated in the inaugural Pelotonia ride in 2009 in honor of his aunt, who was treated for lymphoma at The James and passed away in 2007. His aunt’s oncologist encouraged him to ride. Although he was unfamiliar with Pelotonia, his passion for cycling and for The James led him to sign up.
The rest of the family joined soon after—Anna Maria’s mother Marisa in Pelotonia 11 and Anna Maria and her sister Christina in Pelotonia 13. “It was a no-brainer that I would team up with my family in support of my great-aunt, who had passed away from lymphoma,” says Anna Maria. “I was born a Buckeye, so I was proud to be part of an amazing team for an amazing cause!”
Anna Maria is a clinical dietitian at The James, working with patients in outpatient clinics for head and neck cancer, hematology-oncology, and bone marrow and stem cell transplant. Besides being part of a family affair, she rides in Pelotonia to give back to her patients.
“Their courage, determination, strength and undying hope inspire me every single day,” she says.
The Bittoni family is part of Team Buckeye, the official superpeloton (riding group) of The Ohio State University. They ride with Team CTCL (Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma), the same team her father rode with in the first Pelotonia and the team for which Anna Maria has been captain for four years. The Bittoni Family has witnessed Team CTCL grow from five members in 2009 to 120 members in 2017. Last year, the peloton raised over $260,000.
Throughout their six years of riding in Pelotonia, Anna Maria and Christina have pedaled every mile together. They have participated in the 50-mile, 100-mile and 180-mile routes. After riding the 180-mile route last year, they can’t imagine going back to riding fewer miles.
“It was such an amazing experience to get back out on our bikes on day two and ride through the rolling hills of Ohio, knowing that we were out there fighting for the same cause with so many other riders,” Anna Maria says.
One of her favorite Pelotonia memories is from day two of the ride last year when she, Christina and their friend Nancy paused at a rest stop—they had been cycling through the hills and were getting tired. Two other cyclists asked to join them for the rest of the ride.
The five formed a paceline, a group of cyclists who line up behind the first rider, who breaks the wind and pulls the rest of the riders. Every few minutes, the front rider drops to the back of the line and the next person pulls. While riding in a paceline, the group shares the workload, and achieves more together than the riders could individually.
“I love riding in pacelines because they are such a beautiful metaphor for what Pelotonia is all about— people helping people,” Anna Maria reflects. “There is a special bond between the people you meet through Pelotonia. They’re family.”
Anna Maria’s family, friends and community remind her every year during Pelotonia weekend that she is a part of something that is much bigger.
“In Pelotonia, we don’t ride for the finish line. We don’t ride for money. We ride for people. We work hard because people are counting on us. We ride for the doctor who has to tell another patient that their latest treatment didn’t work. For the researcher who is on the verge of a breakthrough. For the patient who gets to attend his daughter’s wedding because of a clinical trial drug developed with Pelotonia dollars. For the family member who has dropped everything to care for their loved one. They are why we ride in Pelotonia. These are the riders behind us that we pull.”
Anna Maria will be riding the 180-mile route for Pelotonia 18.