Hutch News Stories

Obliteride's new director gets geared up

Bike ride, run and walk to raise funds for cancer research returns for 8th year with revised route, upgraded website — and the same community spirit

In the cold of winter, August seems far away. But preparations are already in full swing for Obliteride, a biking and 5K event that raises funds for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Obliteride: Fast facts

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 8

START: University of Washington

FINISH: Gas Works Park, Seattle

ROUTES: 5K walk or run, 25- 50- and 100-mile bike ride, plus volunteering and virtual participation

WHO: Everyone! There are routes and participation options for people of all ages and abilities.  

WHY: To save lives. Thanks to sponsor generosity, 100% of participant-raised funds support research at Fred Hutch.

Registration is now open!

obliteride.org

This will be the eighth year participants in Obliteride have strapped on their bike shoes and running sneakers for cancer research at what’s become the largest community fundraising event of its kind in the Northwest. So far, Obliteride donors and sponsors have raised nearly $30 million, providing critical funding for cancer research. Through their fundraising, participants honor loved ones affected by cancer, all while enjoying food, music and the company of others who are passionate about saving lives.

The Obliteride spirit continues this year, with some updates to make everyone’s experience better than ever.

We sat down with Obliteride’s new director, Jim Birrell, to learn more about him and what Obliteride participants can anticipate this year.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Jim Birrell poses with his bike while wearing Obliteride kit.
Jim Birrell, the new Obliteride director, wore his Obliteride kit to the Seattle-area Chilly Hilly cycling event on Feb. 25. Photo courtesy of Jim Birrell

What makes Obliteride special?

It’s a community gathering of 3,000 like-minded people who come together to support a common goal: raising funds that will accelerate cancer research and ultimately save lives. Obliteride captures the spirit of the Puget Sound, home to so many people committed to making the world a better place. And it’s a really joyful event, where patients, survivors, families and caregivers come together to turn their hope into action by supporting cancer prevention, treatment and cures.

What’s new this year?

We're making some really calculated improvements. Really, our No. 1 goal is safety. Behind that is customer service.

For customer service, if you look at the new website [launched Feb. 4], I think it really starts there. We are focused on the experience that begins at registration, and the journey all the way through the fundraising efforts, the team-building efforts (and the camaraderie that will come along with that), the on-site execution of Friday and Saturday, and then the post-event. 

We certainly listen to our past participants. We have exciting surprises in store for riders who have been with us over the years. But there will be something for everyone, including new participants who might not have been out on their bikes or the trail in a while. With our new website, we’ll be able to help everyone make the most of their involvement with Obliteride and Fred Hutch.

Why is raising money for cancer research meaningful to you?

I lost a very dear friend to cancer. Her name was Katheryn, and she was an oncology nurse. … She was one of the most remarkable women that I ever met in my professional career. She fought so hard to beat it, and I really thought she would.

She believed in research. And that’s why it was just so fortunate for me to get this job, so I can put my efforts toward raising money for research so that we don’t lose another Katheryn.

Ride, run or walk to cure cancer faster

Before you came to Obliteride, you owned an Atlanta-based company that ran operations for cycling events (including Obliteride). What brought you to the Obliteride director position?

That’s right. Through my company, I worked on biking events across the U.S. And I can tell you that Obliteride stands out as being an exceptionally beautiful and well-organized event. Obliteride has a wonderful, powerful community, and it’s supported by an incredible team of staff and volunteers who ensure that everyone has a great time. To lead this event — and to know that I’m a part of supporting the phenomenal research taking place at Fred Hutch — is the dream of a lifetime.

On a more personal level, I met a woman who lived in the Tri-Cities [in Eastern Washington]. We got engaged two years ago and got married in October. And, you know, I've been flying 200,000-plus miles a year for eight-plus years in a row. … I want to live, certainly, in the same state and the same time zone as my wife.

Will you be doing one of the routes this year in Obliteride or will you be too busy?

In Obliteride, I’ve ridden both the 100- and 50-mile routes. Love them. … This year, as much as I want to be out on the road, I need to be monitoring from a command center.

What are some of your favorite rides around Seattle?

You know, I'm new here, so I haven’t done a lot of rides. I like the gravel road scene up near North Bend — I just went up the John Wayne Trail. I did participate in Chilly Hilly [a cycling event around Bainbridge Island] this past weekend, which was a lot of fun and very beautiful. And I'm looking forward to going up to the [Skagit Valley] Tulip Festival; I'm sure that will be some great riding.

Right now, I have two routes to get to work. With my fast route, it’s 5 1/2 miles. … And then when I do my hill climbing, I go across the Ballard locks and then up through Discovery Park, over Magnolia and then down, up and over Queen Anne, and down to Westlake here, and that’s 12 miles.

That’s impressive. And you do that on the way to work?

Every day. I just love it. I’ve probably put just 60 miles on my car since the 28th of December.

Obliteride funding in action
Fred Hutch scientist Dr. Akhila Rajan talks about how funds raised through Obliteride advance her research. Fred Hutch Obliteride

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Last Modified, March 02, 2020