The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Special Report But for Ohio State Campaign

Living her life

‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart.’ — Pelotonia beneficiary Susan Davenport


Susan Davenport and Dr. John Byrd met as riders in the 2016 Pelotonia, although their paths crossed as patient and researcher before they ever laid eyes on one another.

Susan Davenport dreamed of riding in Pelotonia, and her partner, Gary Internicola ’77, wanted to join her. But last year, it seemed unlikely that they would make it to the annual bike tour that fuels cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

After 15 years of battling cancer and its brutal side effects, Davenport, then 45, had lost hope.

“My body and spirit were tired,” she said. “I wanted to stop treatment and try to have a life. I just couldn’t take any more.”

What the northern Virginia resident didn’t know was that she would get her life back thanks to research funded by Pelotonia, which has raised more than $106 million since it began in 2008 and attracts more than 7,500 riders annually.

Every dollar that riders raise goes to cancer research at The OSUCCC – James. So far, 89 research teams have embarked on projects ranging from drug development and immunotherapy to nanotechnology and genetic testing.

Pelotonia also has awarded research fellowships to 399 Ohio State students and funded lifesaving networks such as the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative, said Dr. Michael Caliguiri, co-founder of Pelotonia, director of The OSUCCC and CEO of The James.

“Pelotonia funds allow us to support high-impact, high-reward research unlikely to receive funding through traditional mechanisms,” he said. “Some of this research has already translated into changing the landscape of cancer prevention and care for patients in Ohio and across the world.”

Private funding is so important because federal grants are quite limited. Out of the 12,000 grant proposals the National Cancer Institute will receive this year, only about 2,000 will be funded, he said. That means many scientists may never get to test bold, innovative ideas unless they win support from private sources such as Pelotonia.

Because of such innovation, Davenport’s path crossed that of Dr. John Byrd, the D. Warren Brown Chair of Leukemia Research and Distinguished University Professor at The OSUCCC – James.

In 2012, Pelotonia awarded a grant to Byrd and Associate Professor of Medicine Amy Johnson to conduct the first clinical testing of the drug ibrutinib in relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The results were amazing. About 92 percent of patients went into remission and experienced limited side effects. The drug also proved effective in treating other types of leukemia.

When Davenport’s oncologist learned of its success, he convinced her to try the new daily pill. Within months, she’d regained her vitality and hope. Davenport registered for Pelotonia 2016, and that’s when she learned about her drug’s connection to the event.

At Pelotonia’s opening ceremonies in August, Davenport met and thanked the doctors whose work has extended her life. Her gratitude flowed to her fellow riders, too.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she told a crowd of 14,000 riders, guests and donors. “I look forward to being here with you next year, five years, 10 years from now — when someone else is standing on this stage telling the story of a life saved thanks to what this group of people accomplished this weekend.”

Davenport and Internicola rode 50 miles and raised more than $26,000 for Pelotonia. And like all recipients of Pelotonia grants, Byrd and Johnson rode and raised money as well.

“Patients like Susan motivate us as scientists every day to keep pushing forward, despite setbacks along the way, to make breakthroughs that will improve the outcome for people fighting cancer,” Byrd said. “Being able to help people with the work you do, it’s addictive, and you want to do it again.”