One pedals, all benefit
Students and patients gain perspective and friends through Team Buckeye’s I Ride For You.
A stay-at-home mother of two living in Worthington and an Ohio State undergraduate majoring in international studies might seem to have little in common. But they do.
Both have had cancer touch their lives, and both credit research at Ohio State’s James Cancer Hospital for making the disease less destructive. They were brought together through the I Ride For You program of Team Buckeye, the Pelotonia bike tour’s super-peloton. The annual grassroots tour through central Ohio has raised more than $106 million for Ohio State cancer research since 2008.
Kristin Healy found a lump in her right breast in 2013. She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and had a mastectomy.
Because she was just 36 years old and had no family history of breast cancer, her physicians recommended genetic testing. She tested positive for BRCA2, a protein-coding gene associated with breast and ovarian cancer.
“I ended up not having to do chemotherapy because The James is such an amazing hospital and so research oriented,” Healy said.
While chemotherapy might have been the recommended course for her in the past, research and testing allowed physicians to target her cancer more precisely. She was put on a drug regiment of tamoxifen and had a hysterectomy in 2014.
Two months after Healy received her diagnosis, Katie Tomaszewski’s father, Ken, died after a long battle with colorectal cancer. Now an Ohio State senior, Tomaszewski credits her dad’s participation in clinical trials at The James for adding years to his life.
His death, however, left a terrible void in hers.
“After he died, I felt very lost on campus,” said Tomaszewski of Upper Arlington. “I felt very defeated.”
She joined Team Buckeye Student Riders and found a home.
“I found people just as frustrated with cancer as me, … and all passionate,” Tomaszewski said. “They picked me up, and I found my place on campus.”
She rode in her first Pelotonia tour in 2013 with her mom. Crossing the finish line was powerful, and she knew then that she would ride every year.
In 2014, she participated in Team Buckeye’s I Ride For You program, which matches students with cancer patients. Last year, she was matched with Healy.
“I was looking for an opportunity to be involved and have a purpose for all this mess,” Healy said of her interest in the program. She had researched other organizations but decided on Pelotonia because
100 percent of the money raised funds cancer research at Ohio State.
“My children have a 50 percent chance of having this gene,” Healy said. “So, let’s make sure all money goes to research, because research is our No. 1 thing.”
Healy and Tomaszewski met at a luncheon, and they shared their stories about how cancer had changed their lives.
“We were crying in the first 10 minutes of meeting each other,” Healy said. “I feel like we instantly bonded at that lunch.”
“We talked about research and what it’s meant in her life,” said Tomaszewski, who has served as president of Team Buckeye Student Riders for the past two years. “I understood the role research plays because it gave my dad more years at life.”
Tomaszewski eventually met Healy’s husband, Richard Healy ’04, and children, Annie and Jack. The family helped raise money to support Tomaszewski’s 180-mile ride.
Tomaszewski wasn’t sure if she would see Healy and her family along the route, but she promised to keep an eye out.
On the second day of the ride, she came up on the final mile. And there along the route was 4-year-old Jack standing by his mom and holding a sign thanking her, other riders and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Thanks to you,” his sign read, “My Mommy gets to take me to my first day of preschool next week!”
“It was at that moment I realized I don’t ride in Pelotonia for myself anymore,” Tomaszewski said. “I got involved because I was hurt. And when I saw them, I realized I ride for Kristin and others in a bigger community.”
That’s a goal of I Ride For You: creating personal connections to show students how riding in Pelotonia can help cure cancer. Started by Team Buckeye Student Riders four years ago, I Ride For You now involves 100 students and 100 patients. And it’s growing.
“This program is for students to understand that The James is saving lives right here in Columbus,” said Justine Boggs, project coordinator for Team Buckeye. “This isn’t just a relationship that starts and ends during Pelotonia season. They’re lifelong friends.”
Tomaszewski and Healy are a good example. The international studies major will graduate this spring, but she plans to ride in Pelotonia again this August — and again for her friend who’s a mother of two in Worthington.
“I have a special relationship with her,” Tomaszewski said, “and I want to develop that and let it grow beyond my college career.”