Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the face of the mother of all pandemics, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has reinvented its annual summer fundraiser into a sort of global competition full of fun, healthy and, in some cases, wildly creative challenges.
Absent, for now, are Obliteride’s customary large gatherings and group bike rides. In their place for this year’s season-long event, people are safely raising money for the Hutch’s scientific research wherever they live — Seattle, San Diego, New Hampshire or Norway — and however they like.
Some are biking and others are running, walking, rowing, climbing, kayaking, jumping rope, practicing yoga and, yes, even skateboarding and eating pizza, if that’s how they roll.
So far, more than 2,500 people have picked a favorite activity, set a goal and promised to meet it by Aug. 8. In lieu of the usual group rides, walks and runs, people from Seattle to Singapore and all points between are raising funds in just about every way imaginable.
As organizers put it, “every drop of sweat counts.” And every dollar goes to Fred Hutch research, half to the Hutch’s efforts to cure cancer and half to its infectious disease experts and virologists working to quash this new viral threat, COVID-19.
“I'm moving 1,600 miles under my own power by Aug. 8,” said Kyle Martin, a follicular lymphoma survivor and the team captain of Cancer Sucks! Fight! “I’m doing 100 miles for each year I've been in remission, adding up all my cycling, swimming, walking, paddle boarding and kayaking miles to make 1,600.”
Diagnosed and treated at the Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium in 2004, Martin is dedicating his Obliteride effort to his mother Trudi, who died in 2018, shortly after being diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer.
“Cancer is a horrible disease,” he said. “And the Hutch played a significant role in my diagnosis and treatment. I can't think of too many better causes.”
More than a dozen Seattle businesses are taking part as well, “going orange” to show their support for the Hutch’s efforts to obliterate cancer and infectious diseases caused by viruses, such as HIV, herpes, hepatitis and now, COVID-19.
Keeping the momentum going in times of adversity is what it’s all about for the Hutch, whether it’s working to cure cancer or tracking, tracing and finding treatments for COVID-19. Want to pitch in? There’s still time to join Obliteride and raise funds for lifesaving research.
On Monday, Aug. 3, the Seattle Great Wheel and other local landmarks will kick off Glow Orange to Cure Cancer Week with a waterfront light show set against an orange-swathed city skyline. A slew of Seattle-area buildings and structures including the state Route 520 bridge, Columbia Center, Russell Investments Center, the Allen Institute, Argosy Cruises ships, hotels like The Westin Seattle and W Seattle, and other businesses and attractions will turn their lights orange for a week in support of the Hutch’s mission, including its critical coronavirus work.
On Aug. 8, Obliteride participants worldwide will celebrate the end of the challenge — and their efforts — with a virtual party. Singer-songwriter Michael Franti will cap the night as musical guest.
Since its start in 2013, Obliteride participants and sponsors have raised more than $30 million. The annual fundraiser supports research across the Hutch’s areas of scientific expertise — cancer prevention; global health; immunotherapy; basic science; brain, breast, lung, ovarian, colon and prostate cancers; and now, research to track, trace and create vaccines and therapies for the new coronavirus.
Funds raised by the athletic efforts of participants — all those miles run, hiked, walked or skateboarded — will specifically fund early stage research: the innovative ideas and pioneering pilot projects not typically eligible for federal grants, but crucial to the advancement of science and cures.
To paraphrase the late Fred Hutchinson, “Sweat is our only salvation.”
As for activities, many participants are sticking to their first love: Obliteriding on a bike. Others are cycling, but with a twist.
Wenmei Hill, 47, of Seattle, is doing a Pelofondo, a “Gran Fondo-style event” for Peloton riders, over the weekend of July 25 and 26.
“I plan to ride at least 100 miles,” she said. “I’ve never ridden that far inside or outside so I just purchased a pair of padded bike shorts. They’re an important part of ride prep!”
Her ride is dedicated to her dad, who died of multiple myeloma in 2015.
“When he was diagnosed in 2007, he was given a prognosis of ‘up to a year,’” she said. “But thanks to new treatments and clinical trials empowered by research, we were given nearly eight years with him. Every year, I’ve grown stronger in my passion to support the lifesaving research that must continue at the Hutch.”
Hill calls her fundraiser a PeloFondObliteride, admitting she “cannot pass up a good portmanteau.”
She’s not the only one being creative.
Cindy Crank, 60, of Goodyear, Arizona, is golfing as part of Team SanMar — “fifteen rounds with 2015 steps during each round” — to celebrate five years of remission since her 2015 breast cancer diagnosis. Sandy Brown of Nebraska is kayaking to raise money to help the Hutch tackle cancer and COVID-19.
And then there are the extreme athletes.
Mathew Hong, 43, of Bellevue, Washington, is running 80 miles over seven local mountain peaks “in a single push.” He’s competing on Team Amazon.
Known as the Snoqualmie Seven Summit, Hong plans to take off early Friday morning, Aug. 7, and run up and down Kaleetan Peak, Granite Mountain, Mount Defiance, McClellan Butte, Mailbox Peak, Mount Teneriffe and Mount Si before calling it a day sometime late Saturday night. Here’s his route, for those who’d like to join.
Alan Liu, 38, of Seattle, is climbing Mount Everest — virtually, by accumulating the peak’s elevation of 29,029 feet via his indoor trainer and the virtual cycling world of Zwift.
“The cycling community calls this a ‘vEveresting,’” said Liu, who is on Team Microsoft & Friends. “It’s one of the most difficult endurance undertakings one can do. This will likely take me at least 15 hours.”
Liu said this is his third year “raising money for good” and he’s doing this challenge to “fight cancer, COVID-19 and racism.” Donations will go to the Hutch as well as charities working towards racial and criminal justice.
Tomás Delgado has come up with an Obliteride for the record books.
The 25-year-old is testing his body’s “physical and mental limits” with a middle-distance triathlon — that’s a 2.5-kilometer swim, an 80-kilometer bike ride and a 20-kilometer run — and then adding in a few extras.
“This year, I’m doing a half Ironman; eating an 18-inch pizza; drinking a 12-pack of beer (probably something light) and completing a 500-piece puzzle,” he said.
And he’s doing all of this in one day.
“I’m combining my favorite and least favorite activities to raise money for the Hutch,” he said. He did not elaborate as to which category pizza-eating or beer-drinking fit into. His top two donors will have the honor of choosing the beer and the pizza toppings, he said, asking they “not be too gross.”
Delgado is participating for his father, uncles and grandfather who have all survived various cancers as well as his grandmother, who died of advanced ovarian cancer.
Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2017, Amber Hahto rode in her first Obliteride one day after receiving chemotherapy. She was dealing with side effects from another therapy during her second Obliteride.
This year, for her third, she’s “going big.”
“I’m doing 1 mile for every day I’ve been living with metastatic breast cancer — that’s 979 miles,” she said. “I’m doing my version of a triathlon: 50 miles kayaking, 429 miles biking and 500 miles of walking/running.”
Hahto said she’s raising money for research — over $7,790 of her $20,000 goal as of this writing — because “research is the fastest path to curing cancer. And I believe the team at Fred Hutch can get us there.”
Camari Olson, team captain for Jeanette’s Cancer Crushing Crusaders, is Obiteriding for her late friend and Washington’s first female firefighter, Jeanette Woldseth, who died of metastatic breast cancer in 2018. She was 64.
Though not a cyclist, Woldseth began participating in the annual fundraiser after her stage 4 diagnosis in 2013. She ended up bringing in more than $51,000 in donations to Hutch research.
“It gave her great joy,” Olson said.
To honor Woldseth, Olson is doing 300 miles' worth of “favorite activities” including biking, hiking, walking and maybe even a little pickleball. So far, her efforts have brought in more than $2,000 for research.
“I’m doing this because I promised Jeanette we’d keep her legacy and the momentum going for this team after she was gone,” she said.
As we do. Until cancer itself is gone.
Want to help obliterate cancer and other diseases like COVID-19? There’s still time to register, pick a challenge and raise those much-needed research dollars. Thanks to generous sponsors like the Sloan Foundation, Bristol Myers Squibb, Seattle Genetics, Amazon, Safeway, University Village, Elysian Brewing Company and others, 100% of all participant-raised funds will go right to work driving science forward to prevent, treat, and cure cancer and other diseases.
Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at doublewhammied.com and tweets @double_whammied. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just diagnosed and need information and resources?
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