Cancer has touched so many of our lives in the same way it has touched Katrina Bilella, a graduate student from Florida State University.
In 2002, she lost her grandfather after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer, and now she’s watching her aunt fight breast cancer. Inspired by the war her loved ones have waged against the disease, Bilella has enlisted as a soldier, taking on a 4,000-mile bike journey from Baltimore to San Francisco with 25 other bicyclists to raise funds to fight the disease that has affected her family so deeply.
“My mission is to spread awareness, unite communities and inspire hope,” Bilella wrote in her blog at 4KforCancer.org. “I know there will be tough days, and I know my aunt’s and grandfather’s remarkable outlooks on life will help me through them.”
Bilella and 25 other young people left Baltimore June 2 and are traveling between 50 to 120 miles per day as part of the Ullman’s Cancer Fund’s 4K for Cancer Program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing lives by supporting, educating and connecting with young adults who are affected by cancer.
The team has so far raised more than $135,000. In 2012, the 4K for Cancer participants raised almost $500,000. There are three other bike teams associated with Ullman’s Cancer Fund crossing the United States this summer as well, but Bilella’s group is the only one traveling through Kansas.
“The trip has been eventful and challenging,” Bilella said. “Within the first four days we were biking up the Appalachian Mountains! The only delays we have experienced have been heavy rain with lightning and thunder and a few re-routes due to the condition of the roads.”
About a month into their journey on July 2, the team will be enjoying the hospitality of Friends University in Wichita. They will spend the night in the University’s Multipurpose Room in Garvey Physical Education Center and enjoy a couple of meals and access to showers during their stay.
“We were having trouble finding a place to host us in Wichita, so I called the Wichita Visitor Center to see if they had any suggestions,” Bilella said. “I knew it was going to be a great place to stay after speaking to Nancy Graf (assistant to the president at Friends University). She was so friendly and helpful. Not many people are willing to go out of their way for 26 strangers. She has truly gone above and beyond.”
Friends University President Dr. T.J. Arant is pleased it worked out for the University to host the team.
“This is an amazing group of young people who are spending their summer supporting a cause so near and dear to their hearts,” Dr. Arant said. “Each of them has a story to share about their own personal experience or that of a loved one. We are glad to provide them a place to stay so they can continue with the rest of their journey to raise awareness and support.”
The team is expected to arrive at Friends University’s Wichita campus sometime between 1 to 8 p.m. July 2. Their anticipated departure time is between 7 and 8 a.m. July 3.