AMERICA’S MOST BEAUTIFUL BIKE RIDE: WHEN CYCLING FOR A CAUSE TRULY CHANGES LIVES
By Crystal Nay
When people are hit with tragedy, we see what we are truly made of. After experiencing the tremendous loss of his wife of 36 years to leukemia, one man decided to start changing other’s lives.
For the last 12 years, Mel Bradley has been riding his bicycle in the America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride every June— about 100 miles around Lake Tahoe— to raise research money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS). To date, Bradley’s Greater Stanislaus County-based team has raised over $1 million in the seven years since its inception. But Bradley wasn’t always an avid cyclist.
In 1969, this son of a local peach farmer married his high school sweetheart. In 1996, she was diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer, which she fought with equally aggressive chemo for nine years. The toll the treatments took on her body later resulted in a leukemia diagnosis.
Bradley’s wife was treated at Stanford Medical Center, and a requirement was to be within five minutes of the hospital at all times. Finding himself now in Palo Alto until further notice, and on edge about his wife’s health, Bradley took a bike to his new temporary home in the Bay Area. It became his outlet and stress reliever. He rode 20 miles a day during the week, and 50-60 miles a day on the weekends.
“I was a runner. I went to college on a running scholarship. When I started riding, I couldn’t hold anyone’s wheel,” Bradley says.
Unbeknownst to Bradley, his road bike life was starting to take shape. After six short months, his wife lost her battle with leukemia and passed in 2005.
It was through Bradley’s daughter’s training for the now defunct Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco that he learned of Team in Training (TNT).
“She took me to a TNT inspiration dinner, and that’s when, I joke, that I drank the purple Kool-Aid,” he laughs.
With no local bicycle team in the Stanislaus area, he joined a cycle training team farther north, and for six years he drove to Sacramento to ride. Until one day in 2012, when friend Melissa Van Diepen called and asked him to help start a TNT cycle team in Modesto.
It was only a matter of time before Bradley enlisted the help of his friend, Ron Dickerson, who had experienced a brush with lymphoma. Having come from a family with a history of health issues, Ron had always paid special attention to his health. It was while working out with his trainer that he had expressed certain changes in his health and energy. While he was initially waved away by unconcerned doctors, Ron insisted on an ultrasound, which resulted in the discovery of masses in his neck.
The diagnosis: non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
In his easy-going demeanor, Ron agreed to six rounds of chemotherapy almost nonchalantly. “I had already lost a son, and going through something like that makes everything else less traumatic,” says Dickerson. Dickerson’s son, Ryan, passed away at age 18, shortly after being accepted to his dream university.
After his first extremely taxing round of chemotherapy, he wanted no more of it. “I had to sit there for eight hours. It felt like my head and my body were filling with liquid, and I had uncontrollable shaking,” he recounts. Even though Ron’s PET scan came back clear after the first three chemotherapy sessions, he reluctantly, though diligently, finished the last three rounds. He is now two years in remission.
Part of Dickerson’s secret for beating lymphoma is staying positive. “Most riders ride in memory of someone. I truly believe that through that people’s lives have been saved. It’s incredibly important to stay positive,” says Dickerson. Dickerson himself found an extra boost of hope when he learned Van Diepen participated in an LLS ride in his honor.
In 2016, Dickerson said that if he was healthy, he would participate in the 2017 ride.
Dickerson, and his wife Lynn, quickly joined up with Bradley’s cycling team, and Bradley credits him with being key in growing the team over the two years Dickerson rode with them. He brought 13 new team members, an influx of fundraising dollars, and the help of many corporate sponsorships.
“Each rider raises about $3,000 a year. So, in my dreams, I figured we could raise $200,000-$240,000 with 70 riders. But, LLS celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and there was a challenging goal of $300,000,” says Bradley.
That reward for reaching the $300,000 goal brought out the competitor in Bradley. He began with 12 riders in 2012 and raised $40,000. Now, in 2018, he has a team of 67 riders and raised $363,000, making his team the top fundraiser in the nation for LLS, for the fourth year in a row.
Because Bradley so fiercely believes in and supports the mission behind TNT and LLS, he and his incredible team smashed right past the $300,000 goal. Having wholly given himself to the LLS cause and the dedication of his team, Bradley spends about 50-55 hours a week in the on season, and about 25 hours a week in the offseason, to organizing bike rides for groups in the area. His efforts were recently nationally recognized when TNT awarded him Outstanding Team Coach in the Nation.
I don’t know if I’ll live to see the day, but I’m hopeful this is the way we will treat all cancer in the future. That the days of poisoning your body to kill cancer will be ancient history.
Affectionately known as Ol’ Biker Man or The Million Dollar Man, this 70-year-old Century rider is full steam ahead. The progress of cancer research—and the honor of those for whom he rides—are what keep him motivated.
“Half of all cancer treatments over the last 20 years started with blood cancer research,” says Bradley of the correlation of blood cancers, like leukemia, and today’s treatment protocol. He also finds great promise in experimental immunotherapy, which boasts a 95% success rate and uses your own “revved up” immune system to see and kill cancer cells. “I don’t know if I’ll live to see the day, but I’m hopeful this is the way we will treat all cancer in the future. That the days of poisoning your body to kill cancer will be ancient history.”
For more information on LLS, Team in Training, joining the local cycle team, or donating money, contact Mel Bradley at [email protected] or call 209.765.7009