Obliteride brings in $2M to spur cancer, COVID-19 research

Annual Fred Hutch fundraiser goes virtual and DIY; sets records for participation, creativity and global reach
More than 3,200 people from around the world participated in this year's "virtual" Obliteride, which will fund research into therapies for both cancer and COVID-19. Catch our virtual celebration video, above, featuring Obliteride participants, cancer survivors and special musical guest Michael Franti. Video courtesy of Obliteride

They kayaked on Nebraska lakes, climbed mountains in the Cascades and ran, literally, to the ends of the earth.

All told, nearly 3,200 people from every state in the U.S. and every continent on the planet — including Antarctica — came together as one giant community to raise funds through Obliteride to support the lifesaving research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“This was such an unusual year for us,” said Jim Birrell, director of the annual fundraiser. “We had to completely reimagine the event. But we are super proud of where we are today. We met and even surpassed our goal of reaching 3,000 participants. We’re thrilled by the enthusiasm and the creative ways people participated.”

So far, this year’s event has brought in $2,175,968, bringing Obliteride’s eight-year fundraising total to nearly $32 million.

Due to the growing pandemic, funds will be split between cancer and COVID-19. The Hutch is home to world-renowned infectious disease experts and virologists, many of whom are involved with new therapeutic or preventive clinical trials for COVID-19. Funds from Obliteride will fuel both leading-edge cancer research and real-time studies to halt the COVID-19 pandemic and develop lifesaving tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Still time to help beat cancer and COVID-19

But Obliteride’s orange dust hasn’t quite settled yet. Fundraising will remain open through Sept. 17 for those who still want to donate. 

Birrell said the quick pivot to virtual was a challenge, but people rose to it with incredible enthusiasm and imagination. He was also impressed by the number of people who reached out to friends and family worldwide to get them to participate, as well.

“We were really able to build upon the community of Obliteride,” he said.

Along with bike rides, runs and walks, participants rowed, paddled, kayaked, yoga’d, Peleton’d and even puzzled their way through various physical challenges to meet — and in many cases, surpass — their fundraising goals. 

pull quote photo

'That’s all folks! @Obliteride 2020 in the books. 113/100 miles on the iron horse all in the name of #cancer and #covid research @fredhutch. Thanks @warmlykelly and Bob for riding with me this morning! #curestartshere #obliteride #ridenattyride'

— Obliteride participant Rex Miller (@JahNestaWailer) via Twitter


In addition to the global reach, participants set a few records and pulled off some major fundraising feats:

  • 55% of those who took part were new to the event.
  • There were a record-breaking 265 teams, more than half of which were brand new.
  • The largest team was from Amazon, with 257 members.
  • The team with the largest fundraising total came from Microsoft, which raised nearly $79,000.
  • Many first-time teams raised significant funds, including Team Behemoth, which brought in more than $28,000 and Team Tess, which raised an impressive $61,000.
  • Top individual fundraiser was Mark Fleischauer, captain of Kristin & Co., who brought in more than $26,000.
pull quote photo

'Ready to #Obliteride together, alone! Go team @AdaptiveBiotech. Have fun everyone!'

— Obliteride participant Carol Peterman (@CePeterman) via Twitter


This year marked the first Obliteride for Dr. Tom Lynch, who joined the Hutch as president and director shortly before the pandemic hit Washington state. Lynch, his wife and a few others masked up for a 55-mile ride around Lake Washington on Saturday, Aug. 8.

A virtual celebration was held for all participants that night, featuring guest musician Michael Franti.

A photo of three people in Obliteride jerseys on bikes -- all wearing bike jerseys, helmets and masks due to the ongoing pandemic.
Fred Hutch president Dr. Tom Lynch, center, rode 55 miles around Lake Washington with his wife, journalist Laura Pappano (right) and board of trustee vice chair Leigh Morgan (left). "People look to the Hutch for progress and cures,” he said. ”That’s our job and that’s what we’re doing." Photo courtesy of Leigh Morgan

"It was absolutely energizing and wonderful,” Lynch said of his first ride. “We were wearing our Obliteride jerseys and got lots of support from people, who knew what we were doing.”

Lynch said Obliteride is particularly crucial this year because it provides financial support for fundamental science, which “is at the heart of discovery.”

“The world looks to us for innovation,” he said, pointing to the Hutch’s tagline, Cures Start Here.

“It’s not just a tagline. It really is what the Hutch is about,” said Lynch, who holds the Raisbeck Endowed Chair. “We’re the place where the ideas start. They start here, they turn into treatments and those treatments give patients hope. But it starts in these labs. You have to have new ideas — about how to approach COVID-19, about how to approach cancer, about how to prevent HIV. And those ideas happen at the Hutch.

“People look to the Hutch for progress and cures,” he said. ”That’s our job and that’s what we’re doing. And the people who support us through Obliteride make an unbelievable difference.”

A picture of one of the Amazon Spheres, glowing orange for Fred Hutch's Obliteride.
Amazon joined a slew of other Seattle business and landmarks for Glow Orange Week, part of Obliteride's annual fundraiser to obliterate cancer — and now COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Tim Durkan

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 dmapes@fredhutch.org. Just diagnosed and need information and resources? Visit our Patient Care page.

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