by Kimberly Winter Stern | photo by Phil Lacata | Reprint courtesy of 435 South Magazine.
It’s no secret that Lance Armstrong has a special synergy with his bike. He writes and speaks about it and has shown the world many times over in awe-inspiring Tour de France performances that he is at one with his well-oiled machine.
Armstrong’s No. 1 New York Times bestseller, It’s Not about the Bike, has legs almost as strong as the elite athlete who wrote it. The autobiography, released in 2000, speaks eloquently about Armstrong’s ability to regain control and well-being as he went through harrowing treatment for testicular cancer. A study in the resiliency of the human spirit, Armstrong also tells a gut-level honest story of the rigors someone with a cancer diagnosis can face.
The champion cyclist’s public sharing of his experience has helped raise awareness of cancer to generations old and young. He started a foundation in 1997 that sparked grassroots armies in communities across the country—including Kansas City—punctuated, of course, by the brilliant yellow LIVESTRONG logo and the yellow rubber wristband that quickly became a cultural icon.
LIVESTRONG Army of Kansas City (LAKC), part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, helps empower those directly touched by cancer, uniting survivors, family, friends and caregivers to collectively make a difference in the fight against the disease throughout the Kansas City region.
And then there’s a group of athletes with the same drive and determination of the world’s most famous cyclist. The LAKC Cycling Team is comprised of 10 experienced racers—eight of whom live in Johnson County—and helps emulate the LIVESTRONG lifestyle.
It’s not just about the bike for these cyclists—each has a desire for giving back to the community and a vested interest in cancer, with many riders experiencing the loss of a loved one or the grueling aspect of caregiving.
Overland Park resident Suzanne Schultz, a founding member of the LAKC Cycling Team and chief physicist for Midwest Cancer Care at Research Medical Center, says the group’s mission is to highlight the disease that affects thousands in the KC region.
“We want to help reduce the burden of those touched by cancer through advocacy efforts, awareness campaigns and fundraisers,” says Schultz.
Midwest Cancer Care, part of HCA Midwest Health System, is the LAKC Cycling Team’s presenting sponsor. Midwest Cancer Care has three accredited cancer centers at Menorah Medical Center, Research Medical Center and Centerpoint Medical Center. The cancer team at Research Medical Center originally led the charge on supporting the LAKC Cycling Team, and the other Midwest Cancer Care cancer centers quickly jumped on board.
David Bouda, MD, FACP, who leads Midwest Cancer Care at Menorah Medical Center, says the sponsorship is exciting for many reasons, including the message of hope and inspiration the LAKC Cycling Team exemplifies.
“The LIVESTRONG Army of Kansas City Cycling Team is a symbol of empowerment for those affected by cancer and is synonymous with Midwest Cancer Care’s focus,” says Dr. Bouda. “We have a commitment to make our cancer diagnosis and treatment resources available to people close to home and work. It’s a great collaborative effort.”
At the heart of the LAKC Cycling Team is each member’s intense competitive spirit coupled with a poignant personal cancer experience.
Schultz did a residency in Atlanta at the same treatment center her mother visited for treatment of breast cancer.
“Five years later she was diagnosed with cancer in her other breast,” says Schultz. “My sister’s initial breast cancer was discovered at age 32 and the second time at age 37, and a cousin was diagnosed last year.”
Schultz says she realized following her mother’s third breast cancer at age 67 that she was in her career for an important reason.
“I decided to get involved with the Lance Armstrong Foundation to volunteer and help others going through a cancer journey,” says Schultz.
Schultz says racing and cancer are two of her passions and the cycling team was the perfect way to channel her energies. Her husband Rob—whom she met through cycling—is president of the team and has raced off and on during the past 18 years.
“My grandmother died of bone cancer six years ago,” he says.
Richard Hu, an architect, lost his 85-year-old grandmother to cancer five years ago, and his wife has lost two aunts and uncle to the disease within the past 10 years. A lifelong racer, Hu is co-president of the LAKC Cycling Team.
Lawyer Brent Hankins’s business partner died within 30 days of receiving a cancer diagnosis.
“I took my inspiration from Lance,” says Hankins. “It was a no-brainer for me to wear a LIVESTRONG jersey, join the board and be a liaison for the sport, raising money and awareness for cancer.”
Air traffic controller Craig Henwood’s mother-in-law is a Stage IV breast cancer survivor; her sister lost a battle with ovarian cancer; and his stepfather had prostate cancer and is now cancer-free.
“I wanted to get involved to help those dealing with the disease on the frontlines and as caregivers,” says Henwood.
Jeff Lively lost his father to cancer and his sister-in-law has non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I enjoyed biking Mt. Diablo in California with my dad,” says Lively. “It was his favorite ride.”
The troop of cycling cancer ambassadors is planning a September 26 cyclocross called “Cross Out Cancer.” The event is similar to a steeplechase using a bike and participants will pay $25 to ride on all different types of terrains with various barriers and dismounts.
“It will be a family affair,” says Schultz. “Just like cancer brings a family together, our cyclocross will be a day to gather.”
Hankins speaks for the LAKC Cycling Team when he talks simultaneously about cancer and change.
“If we can help change the community for the better by riding our bikes, why wouldn’t we?” says Hankins. “Everyone on the team loves to bike and we want to maximize our mileage for a cause important to us all.”
For more information about the LAKC Cycling Team, visit www.midwestvelo.com.
For more information about Midwest Cancer Care visit www.cancercaremidwest.com.