The Cancer Kicker

Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

Dylan Trakas had a long bike ride ahead of him. He was in Bellingham, Washington. The ride was going to end in Charlestown, South Carolina, 3997 (not 4000) miles away. College was over and he had no bills to pay. Dylan was looking for an adventure he could look back on in his future, more respectable life, filled with responsibilities that would probably preclude him from taking three months off to do something irresponsible like riding a bicycle across the country.

Dylan, and his friend, James Mason (not the actor), biked the route in 2007. They decided to use it as a fundraiser for the Lupus Foundation. When they first heard about the proposed ride, Dylan says his parents weren’t crazy about it. But Dylan’s mother has lupus (a blood disease), and once they learned about the fundraising angle, they warmed to the idea. “It just became a no brainer,” Dylan says, “How do you say no?”

The ride lasted from June to September, and the two raised nearly $22,000.00. Dylan estimates their tires went flat about 25 times along the way. At one point, two spokes on Dylan’s rear wheel snapped near the same time, leaving it so out of shape, he had to disconnect the rear brakes for the tire to spin. He was about 100 miles from the nearest bike shop.

Dylan said the most desolate area was in Wyoming, the most isolated area was in northern Washington (they went three to four days without passing through what passed for a town). The most beautiful stretch of the ride? Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park (“Absolutely gorgeous.”). The downside was that the Rocky Mountains were up next. Dylan thinks the worst climb of the ride was a section of Colorado, where the elevation increased about 3000 feet over 65 miles. Dylan estimates they averaged riding 60 to 65 miles a day, the longest was a 136 mile stretch in Tennessee.

They didn’t seriously consider stopping. “It was never an option,” Dylan states, because they had gotten donations to finish the ride. There were other reasons. “We were having fun,” he says, “It was all part of this larger experience and neither of us wanted to forsake any part of it.”

Three years later, bicycling still plays a role in Dylan’s life. Not so much riding one, but getting others to ride one, and raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). He’s the fundraising coordinator for the Seattle and Philadelphia Livestrong Challenges. They, along with “challenges” in San Jose and Austin, raise big money for LAF, about $11.5 million worth. They are bicycling and 5K run/job/walk events, as well as pep rallies for the foundation and cancer survivors in general.

According to Dylan, the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge started in 2006, raising $2.8 million dollars. In 2007, there were 3,300 participants, raising $2.7 million. That grew to 6,500 participants, raising $3.6 million, last year. This year’s goal is 7,000 participants pulling in $4 million.

He describes his job in business-speak as “mostly stewardship” and as a “customer service portal”. Dylan answers questions from participants and helps them raise money. He’s also working to help people raise money for LAF in non-Challenge athletic events that pull in another $2.5 million (about $1 million of that was raised by participants in the New York City marathon).

About a year ago, Dylan got a second title to put on the back of his business card. He was asked what “Livestrong” (LAF’s slogan) meant to him. “What Livestrong means to me,” he says, “is to kick cancer in the face.” So, on his business card, he is a Cancer Kicker.

What sets LAF apart from many cancer related foundations is its focus on improving the lives of cancer survivors and their families. They don’t fund medical research to benefit future generations; they help cancer survivors live their lives now. For instance, in 2008 and 2009, LAF funded my job so I could provide free legal services to cancer survivors. LAF funds the Abramson Cancer Center’s Livestrong Cancer Survivorship Center. Dylan cites LAF’s SurvivorCare as a reason to give money to LAF. If you call ((866) 673-7205, Monday-Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 central time), you will be able to get answers on questions concerning your diagnosis, possible treatment and non-medical issues like employment and finances.

What I like about Dylan is his genuine desire to help others and his many talents (check out his alter ego, Dylan Murray). What I don’t like is that he lives so far away (Austin, Texas, where LAF is based) and I only see him once a year, at the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge. What I would like is for you to get involved in the Philadelphia (August 21-22 at Montgomery County Community College, or Austin, October 22-24) Livestrong Challenge as a participant, volunteer or donor. It’s a great event, no matter how you get involved. It allows you, in your own way, to kick cancer in the face.

If you would like to help me raise money for LAF, click here.