Want to see in person one of the toughest, coolest, most caring athletes you could ever imagine? Head out to Reunion Ranch northwest of Georgetown on October 27 for the Mamma Jamma Ride, a cycling fundraiser to “Leave Breast Cancer Behind.” You can’t miss this particular athlete. Just look for a blue-eyed blond to cross the finish line—but not on a bicycle. She’ll be riding a unicycle. One more hint: She celebrated her eighth birthday not long ago. She’s Ella Hall, part regular kid, part super kid.
What makes this second-grader care enough about fighting breast cancer that last year she rode her bicycle for 27 miles while battling strep throat and a fever of 102 degrees? Yes, that was Hall’s 2011 Mamma Jamma experience. Her family tried their best but couldn’t get her to stop. She told them, “I can't let all those people down who donated money. I can't let people die because I couldn't finish a ride.” Despite heat, headwinds, a hilly course, and many offers and pleadings to stop, Hall was determined to finish the ride, and finish she did.
The Mamma Jamma event lives in Hall’s heart partly because of family history. When her grandmother developed breast cancer and her great aunt died of the disease, Hall’s parents began supporting the Mamma Jamma Ride, founded in 2009. Every year, they ride. Every year, they raise money. For Hall’s first two years, she rode on a tandem bicycle behind her mother. She pushed hard, though she could barely reach the pedals. Her first solo Mamma Jamma ride came shortly after she got rid of the training wheels on her bicycle.
Hall’s ability to feel empathy for others is another reason she cares about helping to conquer breast cancer. In 2009, Hall and her family were watching the 2010 Masters Golf Tournament. It was the year that Phil Mickelson won, and Hall saw a close-up of Mickelson’s wife, Amy, as the sportscaster mentioned her recent struggle with breast cancer treatments. Hall immediately turned to her mother and said through her tears, “I have to save Amy! I have to ride 100 miles in the next Mamma Jamma and raise a lot of money, like $5,000, to save Amy’s life. Phil would be so sad if Amy died.” Hall’s mother, Rhonda, had a hard time talking her down to 45 miles on the tandem and settling on a fundraising level of $1,000. As a family, the Halls accomplished both goals, with father Michael and younger brother Nolan helping as well.
Hall plans to ride the Mamma Jamma forever, “or at least until I’m 20 because 20 isn’t too old and it isn’t too young.” The ride always occurs near her birthday, which she shares with her mother, and it is something the two hope they can do together for many years to come. They’ve completed the ride for all three years of its existence. Additional motivation for the fourth year is that Hall will ride in the name of a family friend, Camile, who is battling breast cancer. They will finish. They have to.
Since Hall is also a swimmer and trains hard in that sport, she hasn’t been able to put in the training for a 27-mile ride. She qualified for the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation state swim meet in three events, competing against 7- and 8-year olds, and was the fastest 7-year-old in all three events. With two good friends also competing, Hall didn’t want to beat them and make them feel bad. She just wanted to swim her fastest and have them swim even faster.
In this year’s Mamma Jamma, she’ll start a 13-mile ride on her bike; about half way, she’ll switch steeds to pedal across the finish line on one wheel. Since Hall knew she couldn’t train for a long ride this year, she decided to challenge herself in a different way by finishing on her unicycle. How cool is that?
Riding on one or two wheels isn’t all that Hall does for Mamma Jamma. She’s also a great fundraiser, collecting about $300 her first year, $1,000 her second year, and over $3,300 in 2011. Every Saturday and Sunday after her training rides are done, she sets up a lemonade stand in her front yard and provides water, lemonade, sports drinks, bars, and fruit to passing cyclists. She charges nothing, only accepting donations for Mamma Jamma. Traffic at her stand is brisk because she lives in a central Austin neighborhood frequented by training groups and individual cyclists and runners. At her birthday party last year, she asked not for gifts but for donations. How many not-quite-seven-year-olds would think of doing this, never mind carrying out the plan?
This year, Hall’s five-year-old brother joins her at the lemonade stand after training rides. Nolan will pedal the 13-mile route with her, this time solo—no more tandem rides for him either. At Mamma Jamma, they’ll be “Team Ella and Nolan” (which includes their parents as well). You can view their page at www.mammajammaride.org/site/PageServer?pagename=mjr_homepage. Donations are gratefully accepted, but this year Ella has a bigger idea: she hopes to recruit more teams and more individuals for the ride because “it will help Mamma Jamma more if I get more riders and they get more riders.” Use the Web page address above to join a team or form one of your own.
How did someone so young become such a tough, cool, caring athlete? For one thing, when Hall and her mother do their long training rides, they make up stories and songs. They sing long and loud. They also go on destination rides—to get bagels or smoothies, to visit a friend, to play in the park, to go swimming, or to see a movie. In addition to riding a unicycle and wearing a cool team shirt, Hall shows compassion well beyond her years. But mainly when things get hard, Ella Hall says, “I don’t let myself give in.” From the mouth of a babe come words to live by.