On January 19, 2013, a few days before my 75th birthday, I plan to bicycle for 75 miles to encourage people to make donations to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. No, I don’t have the disease. I don’t even have a prostate, though I’m often prostrate at the end of a long, hard workout. As a woman, maybe I should devote my energies to curing breast cancer by focusing on the Mamma Jamma Ride, the Race for the Cure, and so on. In a small way, I have supported (and will continue to support) these and other nonprofit athletic events for as long as I’m financially able.
But here’s the thing. In 1987, my father died at age 77 of prostate cancer. My brother, my only sibling, recently received this diagnosis at age 73. I have a son, five grandsons, two sons-in-law and another daughter’s significant other, numerous male cousins, two nephews, one great nephew, many men friends, and an undisclosed number of ex-boyfriends. My favorite ex died of prostate cancer. I hope no one else I know develops this disease.Just as men have joined women in fully committing to curing breast cancer, I think it’s high time for women to join men by making a similar commitment. They need and deserve our help. After all, does the woman live who has never loved a man or a boy? I don’t think so.Curing prostate cancer deserves more attention than it receives. Whereas breast cancer occurs in one out of eight women, prostate cancer occurs in one out of six men. After skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer diagnosis in the United States. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), “a man is 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a woman is to be diagnosed with breast cancer.” As with breast cancer, if detected early enough, prostate cancer is curable, thanks to research supported by the PCF and other organizations.
Age, race, and family history play as large a role in prostate cancer as in breast cancer. Older men, African Americans, and men having a first-degree relative (father, brother, son) with prostate cancer are all at greater risk. However, many other men also receive the dreaded diagnosis. Some two million men are estimated to be living with prostate cancer in the U.S. today, with 240,000 new cases each year and 33,000 deaths. According to the PCF, “One new case occurs every 2.2 minutes, and a man dies from prostate cancer every 15.6 minutes.” These numbers hit home.
Another set of similarities between breast and prostate cancer includes reluctance to talk about the disease and lack of public awareness. A decade or so ago, you almost had to know someone with breast or prostate cancer to be aware of it, never mind becoming involved in seeking a cure. In recent years, breast cancer groups have done a great job getting the word out and making it acceptable to mention the subject in mixed company. All-encompassing organizations such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the American Cancer Society have also made major contributions. Now it’s time to go public about prostate cancer—at least it is with me.
Therefore, I’ve stepped up my game and joined Athletes for a Cure, which anyone can do on the PCF website. Athletes for a Cure has fielded teams with Austinites at recent events, including the Money Box Cap 2K in Lady Bird Lake on May 12, the Subaru Ironman Canada in Penticton on August 26, the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half on September 22, the Marine Core Marathon in Arlington, Virginia, on October 28, and on November 18, Ironman Arizona in Tempe.
A convenient feature of Athletes for a Cure is that you aren’t restricted to registering for one of these big events. You can participate in any event at any time in any location and raise funds for the PCF. Join Athletes for a Cure, raise money, and make a donation. You don’t even have to buy a uniform, though these are for sale on the PCF website. However, the feature that appeals most to me is to create your own event, hence “Celebrating 75 to Cure Prostate Cancer.” I want my brother, son, grandsons, and all the other men in my life to live cancer-free well beyond the age of 75.
With this milestone 75th birthday coming up, I decided to jump off the same kind of cliff as I did six years ago when I was planning something outrageous for my 70th birthday. I gave up the sedentary life by rolling off the sofa at age 69 and training for triathlons. By now, I’ve finished a couple of dozen triathlons, a bunch of aquathlons, a few duathlons, and too many running races to count. I’m not fast; I’ve received the turtle award as last finisher several times, but I finished every race except one.
So why a bike ride? In January, it’s too cold for a swim, and there are already many running events on the calendar, such as the 3M Half Marathon on January 13 and the Austin Marathon and Half on February 13. Although I do weight lifting, Pilates, and yoga, I don’t think there’s a space where I could invite dozens of my athletic friends to participate with me. But there are two reasons for the bike ride that are important to me.
The first is redeeming myself for the one triathlon I didn’t finish. In March of 2011, I suffered a major bike crash and still feel a little lingering fear of the bike. Bashing my head and tearing all four rotator cuff muscles tends to cause that emotion, not to mention the major case of road rash, the surgery, the six months of physical therapy, and the strengthening exercises that followed. Although I’m fully recovered and have been cycling quite a bit, including riding the 50K Tour de Cure in Alaska in June, I still experience apprehension on the bike. Cycling 75 miles, which will be my longest one-day ride ever, will be a stretch, but I think doing it will help me banish the last wisps of doubt and fear.
Another reason for the ride is having the perfect location almost in my back yard, the Veloway in South Austin. It’s a closed loop of 3.1 miles that offers many twists and turns along with one short steep hill after a sudden right turn. If there’s anything I don’t like in cycling, it’s the boredom of loops, but I want to ride loops for the mental as well as the physical challenge. I fancy I’ll feel a tiny bit like Scott Jurek, the ultra distance runner who has run events consisting of short loops for 24 consecutive hours just because he can. But he’s only 38. Can an elderly brain maintain focus for over five hours? Can elderly legs mash and pull the pedals for over five hours? Will enough friends come out to support me? Will anyone make a donation on the PCF website? Yes, yes, yes, and yes! (I hope!) If not, then I’ll have had a learning experience, won’t I? It’s all good.
On the morning of the ride, I’ll wear my Athletes for a Cure uniform with blue shirts and jackets on top. Blue for boys is the PCF signature color. I’ll park west of the Veloway on La Crosse Avenue near Kiker Elementary School at 7:00 a.m. I’ll pump up my tires and warm up my legs on the way over. I’ll start the loops about 7:15 a.m. (sunrise will be at 7:27 that day). I’ll probably start out by myself since it’ll be so early, but I hope friends or even strangers will ride a few loops with me, especially toward the end when I’ll be very tired. I’ll ask for non-riding volunteers (or riders who want to take a break or have finished) to help me keep track of the loops (24 loops = 74.4 miles plus a 1-mile loop for a total of 75.4 miles). Other non-riding volunteers will be welcome to take last-minute cash donations, to direct traffic if needed, to keep my water bottles and nutrition bag well stocked, and to explain what’s going on to people who don’t know why so many cyclists suddenly flocked to the Veloway.
In summary, the date is January 19, 2013, a Saturday. The time is 7:15 a.m. The location is the Veloway at 4900 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, Texas. The purpose is to support the Prostate Cancer Foundation and to show the men a little love for all they’ve done to support breast cancer. The social value is to celebrate my 75th birthday with friends and go somewhere for lunch afterwards.
There may be some entertainment value for bystanders in taking bets on whether I can do this, how often I have to stop for a Port-a-Potty break, or which loop will shred my legs so much that I’ll have to get off and push my bike up that short, steep hill. Just don’t make any bets on a crash. Perish that thought forever!
Come on out. See what a 75-year-old woman can do on a bike. Watch the hot young cyclists in action. Support a great cause. Have a good time. Donate to the PCF if you can. If you can’t, come anyway. Anyone who has ever loved a man or boy is welcome to celebrate with me.