Conquering Challenges, Forging Connections: Huntsman Sportsfest Bicycle Ride Raises Funds and Fosters Unity

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By Enrique Arce-Larreta — SALEM, Utah – On a picturesque morning at 6 am, a truck packed with enthusiastic cyclists made its way to the starting line of the Huntsman Sportsfest 140-mile bicycle ride, a remarkable event dedicated to raising funds for Huntsman Cancer Institute. As the wheels began to turn, the journey ahead promised not only physical endurance but also the opportunity to create lasting connections and make a significant impact in the fight against cancer.

The inspiration for my participation in this incredible event originated during my tenure in the PathMaker Bridge program at Huntsman Cancer Institute. PathMaker provides six-week research experiences for teachers, who work in labs and then plan lessons for their students based on what they have learned. Having completed the first year and eagerly anticipating the start of the second, I was determined to start my summer research experience by riding in this challenging fundraising ride.

Enrique Arce-Larreta (right) and Shaun Greene (left) during the 2023 Huntsman SportsFest ride. Photo by Charles Uibel

With the generous support of my family and friends, I successfully raised over $500, a testament to their belief in the cause and their commitment to making a difference. Surpassing the milestone of $250 enabled me to participate in the Huntsman Heroes training rides, an integral part of my preparation for the main event.

Under the guidance of coaches and with full support, I engaged in five rigorous training rides that gradually increased in distance and difficulty. These rides not only prepared me physically but also fostered a sense of unity among participants. Each week, we embarked on new routes, pushing our limits and strengthening our resolve. I participated in training rides of 40, 50, 90 and 100 miles. We had climbing routes along Wasatch Boulevard and Emigration Canyon. We mainly spent miles riding to the Salt Lake Marina, around the airport and Legacy Highway to practice the flat terrain of the event. These rides mirrored the challenges we would face during the Huntsman Sportsfest, solidifying our physical and mental preparedness.

Each training ride was meticulously organized and fully supported, mirroring the professionalism and dedication we experienced during the main event. Riding alongside the same group of individuals each week forged bonds of camaraderie, transforming strangers into teammates united by a common goal.

The logistics leading up to the main event were seamlessly coordinated with the help of my newfound cycling friends. Carpooling to the event start in Salem, Utah, became an effortless task as we worked together, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable experience for all.

A poignant and touching tradition marked the beginning of each training ride: a dedication to individuals who had fought valiant battles against cancer. These dedications grounded us in the purpose of our ride, serving as a constant reminder of the lives we aimed to impact with our fundraising efforts.

In the weeks preceding the main event, fundraising efforts received an additional boost from corporate sponsors, including Clean Simple Eats, who generously matched donations. This support galvanized our efforts and motivated us to reach out to even more donors, amplifying the impact of our collective fundraising endeavors.

Finally, the day of Huntsman Sportsfest arrived, and cyclists in the 140-mile ride embarked on a journey filled with determination, hope, and a shared commitment to conquering cancer. The weather was ideal, the volunteers were exceptional, and the aid stations offered a variety of energy-boosting options, ensuring our bodies remained fueled for the challenge.

Starting in Salem, we set off in a spirited convoy, pedaling together as a united force. While some riders surged ahead, forming the lead group, I found my own rhythm and navigated the course at my own pace. The initial 25 miles were spent in the company of the frontrunners until the first rest stop, where I continued on my own.

For a brief period, I found myself in “no man’s land,” relying on my determination to push forward. However, fate intervened, and I found myself riding alongside a group of three individuals who became my companions for the remainder of the journey. The camaraderie we shared eased the challenges and fostered new friendships, exemplifying the spirit of unity that permeated the event.

As the miles melted away, we pushed ourselves further, spurred on by the unwavering support of the volunteers. At each aid station, they greeted us with open arms, replenishing our energy with an assortment of sugar options. At one station, I challenged volunteers to take shots of pickle juice with me. Their dedication and enthusiasm fortified our resolve, uplifting us even in moments of physical exhaustion.

Lunch was provided in Saratoga Springs, after a ride around the west side of Utah Lake. We were happy to eat Subway sandwiches inside an air-conditioned school cafeteria. This was a welcome rest to the elements outside. Feeling refreshed, our team of three riders embarked on our last 40 miles to the University of Utah.

Upon reaching the finish line, a wave of accomplishment and emotion washed over us. We had not only completed a grueling 140-mile ride with an elevation gain of 3,800 feet but had also contributed significantly to the ongoing battle against cancer.

The organizers welcomed us with wet towels and delicious Chick-fil-A sandwiches, providing a well-deserved reward for our efforts. It was a tangible reminder of the incredible journey we had embarked upon and the impact we had made through our fundraising endeavors.

Reflecting upon the entire experience, the Huntsman Sportsfest 140-mile ride transcended the realm of a mere physical challenge. It united people from diverse backgrounds, fostering a sense of purpose and camaraderie that extended beyond the ride itself.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the donors, sponsors, volunteers, and fellow cyclists who made this event possible. It is through their support and dedication that we were able to contribute to the vital research, treatment, and care provided by Huntsman Cancer Institute.

As I prepare to embark on the second year of the PathMaker Bridge program, the memories and connections forged during Huntsman Sportsfest will remain etched in my heart. This extraordinary journey has reaffirmed my belief in the power of community, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of a cancer-free future.

In the end, Huntsman Sportsfest was about more than conquering miles and elevations; it was about overcoming challenges, fostering connections, and making a tangible difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. Together, we pedaled with purpose, fueled by hope, and ignited a collective determination that will continue to drive us forward.

2024 Event info:

June 8, 2024Huntsman SportsFest – Run. Ride. Play. Support Cancer Research, Salt Lake City, UT, An epic ride supporting Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). Distances: 15, 53, 75, 102, 135 & 140-miles. 100% of all funds support the mission of HCI., Jen Murano-Tucker, 801-584-5815, [email protected], huntsmansportsfestival.com

Enrique Arce-Larreta is a cyclist and physics teacher at West High School in Salt Lake City.

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