Solar Bear Ride raises more than $15,000 for Cancer Services

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Kristen Starkey (right), 3, wheels her trike through the WSPD Bike Rodeo course, Saturday, August 16, 2014, followed by her sister Rachel, 4, during the Cycling Fun Day in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As David Fain pedaled 300-miles across the state in the second annual Solar Bear Ride, he knew that — despite the soreness creeping into his limbs — he had to keep going, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

There was only one reason for this certifiably insane three-day cycling trek: to beat cancer, the deadly disease that had stung his family like so many others.

The ride, from Aug. 6 to 8, was a fundraiser for Winston-Salem Cancer Services, a local agency that helps cancer patients and their families by providing emotional and monetary support.

Fain has dealt with the organization firsthand. His wife, Sherrie, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Cancer Services was invaluable in her treatment, he said.

“Getting a cancer diagnosis hits you like a ton of bricks and turns your world upside down,” he said. “With so many strong opinions and treatment options, working with Cancer Services was vital for my wife and I.”

Cancer Services provided Fain with resources and professionals that enabled them to weed through the mass of information and determine the appropriate cancer treatment. His wife is now six years cancer-free.

“It’s really a wonderful organization, and it’s inspiring to me that we live in a community so willing to stand behind cancer patients,” said Fain, one of 15 local cyclists participating in the ride from Winston-Salem to Oak Island.

Through local corporate sponsors and community donations, the Solar Bears had raked in about $13,000. An additional $2,000 was raised Saturday for a grand total of more than $15,000, although donations are still coming in and all will not be counted until the middle of the week.

The Cycling Fun Day included a 55- and 10-mile bike ride beginning and ending in downtown. Many of the cyclists had personal connections to cancer, and some were even cancer survivors.

Rod Hunter, a two-time cancer survivor, participated in the 10-mile ride.

He was diagnosed with melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer three and a half years ago. Three months later after defeating the disease, Hunter was discovered to have colon cancer.

After defeating his second bout of cancer, Hunter utilized the organization’s counseling services and support groups.

“I became very depressed even as my body was getting better because cancer had devastated me emotionally,” he said. “Sharing my experiences with the others in the support group made it a bit less scary.”

The money raised by the Solar Bear Ride goes toward helping cancer patients get the medications and therapy treatment they need and would otherwise be unable to afford. It also assists with transportation costs to and from medical appointments and helps connect patients with counselors and other professionals.

Hunter, 72, said the organization was a godsend, and he has decided to pay it forward by volunteering there twice a week.

“I want to do everything I can to minimize the pain of other people fighting cancer so they don’t have to go through what I went through,” he said. “I’d like to think I’m helping fight awful disease by volunteering at the organization and partaking in this bike ride.”

At the conclusion of Saturday’s rides, cyclists and spectators enjoyed live music and food and knowing that their contributions were helping to eradicate the terrible stronghold of cancer in local families.

The Solar Bear Ride was created as a substitute for the Winston-Salem Cancer Services’ annual Polar Bear Ride fundraiser after it was cancelled in 2013 due to weather.

In the first Solar Bear Ride last August, about $13,000 was raised. Since then, Cancer Services has seen growth in volunteers and donations, both of which are invaluable in the organization’s functioning, said Willonda Thomas, the organization’s marketing and development director.

In the past year, the organization had about 600 volunteers, many of whom had begun working there after learning about the organization at last year’s ride.

“The awareness the ride has brought to our organization has been phenomenal and an all-around win-win for Cancer Services and our clients,” Thomas said. “The ride has let people know who we are and that those with a cancer diagnosis won’t have to face cancer alone.”

The organization continues to accept donations year round, and Thomas urged people to contribute anything they can.

“Every penny counts because we are able to stretch it much further than face value,” she said. “Each dollar we receive allows us to access about $51 dollars worth of services because of donations, so if you multiply the $15,000 the Solar Bears brought in by 15, that’s a phenomenal impact.”

About 92 percent of the money goes directly toward helping local cancer victims, trumping the national average of 75 percent for similar charitable organizations.

The remaining 8 percent goes towards necessary management costs and fundraising efforts.

“The great thing about our organization is that the money goes directly toward helping cancer patients right in our community,” Thomas said. “I think it’s great that they’re doing this ride and that people have really opened up their hearts and wallets to help.”

Winston-Salem resident Joyce Brown donated $1,000 in memory of her late husband, Carroll Brown, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2011. She also donated $1,000 to last year’s ride and donates to cancer research at Duke Hospital, as well.

Her sister, Joreen Evans, is a breast-cancer survivor, so Brown is well-versed in the toll cancer can have.

“I’ve seen what the patients and caregivers have to go through and experienced that myself,” she said. “Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, whether that’s through family members, friends, or personal experience.”

According to Cancer Services, more than 75 percent of the community will be either personally diagnosed or affected by cancer in their lifetime.

But Brown said she has hope for the future of cancer patients in the area as long at the Solar Ride continues to exist.

“They do a wonderful, selfless thing cycling and raising all that money for Cancer Services, so I just want to support them any way I can,” Brown said. “I’m confident that one day we’ll find a cure for cancer, but in the meantime, they’re helping to make cancer a little bit more manageable for everyone.”