Why We Ride: Million Dollar Bike Ride

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by Joe & Mary Van Brackel

The first time we heard about the Million Dollar Bike Ride (MDBR), we had the same reaction that most people would have: "That sounds like more than we can pull off". After years of Mary staying at home (due to LAM) while Joe enjoyed riding for exercise and stress relief, we were clearly at different riding levels. Many years after Mary's double-lung transplant, we found a way we could both enjoy the same pace and distance together and bought a tandem bike. After some time gradually increasing what felt like a "comfortable distance", we rode in a couple of organized events close to home, and soon we were riding distances approaching the routes on the MDBR, and really enjoyed the time together. We had sponsored the "LAM Foundation Easy Breathers" on earlier rides and had the chance (at a LAM regional event) to talk to some who were part of the team. With the 100% match by the Penn Medicine Orphan Disease Center (ODC), it seemed like an incredible way to raise funds for research, and we knew we could raise much more by riding and doubling the contributions of our sponsors!

So, we made plans to join the 2017 ride, not sure of what we were getting ourselves into. With routes of 13 miles (family-friendly and flat), 34 miles and 72 miles, there is a route for all riding levels. The start and finish are in the city and the routes are very well marked, supported, and policed. We met riders from all over the country, supporting all kinds of orphan diseases and heard some amazing stories. It really brought an awareness that as lonely as LAM was in the early stages of the Foundation (and still definitely can be), we are truly not alone in trying to fight a rare disease!

But there were 2 major surprises ahead of us. The first one was the feeling that comes from being a part of something so big, and so truly important for those involved. With 500+ riders, the start of the ride was absolutely amazing, working to the edge of the city with every corner blocked and manned by police telling us which way to turn, we navigated through a sea of riders all preparing to ride their chosen distance to help someone they loved by raising research funds. It was already a "goose-bump" experience, and we were just getting started. After a scenic 6-mile ride along the river on a nice road which was closed to car traffic, the pack thinned out nicely and we found our second major surprise - Philadelphia has some pretty legitimate hills! On the first large hill, we noticed that many riders decided to walk to the top, and soon found ourselves being tailed by an ambulance which was politely holding back any car traffic, and probably also keeping an eye on us "old riders" trying to ride to the top. We finally had to walk the last part of the hill but found our momentum after that. The rest of the ride was truly enjoyable, with well marked turns, well stocked rest breaks, and great sight-seeing.

Another surprising thing was that the ride is full of everyday people on everyday bikes. It's not just for the hard-core riders (well, maybe the 72 mile route is), just caring people gathered together to do something great. Sponsors support you just for riding, rather than "per mile" so you just pick the distance that suits your riding level. We found ourselves on the 34 mile route, a distance we had only reached a couple of times, but we decided to go for it! Turns out it's really just a series of shorter rides punctuated by rest stops with healthy snacks and refreshments and the support of other riders. We also started with a modest fund-raising goal but found that our amazing supporters pushed our total into four figures, which was then matched in full by UPenn. With our goals for the ride and for fund-raising both well surpassed, the thrill has not worn off. We plan to ride again this year, which will be a new experience again since we now have a better idea of what to expect. We will also be looking around to see if any other tandems join us, as last year we were the only tandem riders!

The greatest take-away was that just about anyone can finish the ride, at their own level, and we are looking forward to meeting up with this year's "LAM Foundation Easy Breathers" to keep the research momentum moving forward, while having an amazing ride at the same time. Bring your own bike (like we do) or rent one at the ride. Or, if riding is not your style, remember this key point: any funds raised by the "Easy Breathers" (up to $50,000) at the MDBR are matched 100% by the Penn Medicine Orphan Disease Center. Tell your family and tell your friends, this is a great, once a year opportunity to DOUBLE THE IMPACT of your contribution to LAM research.

For more information about the ride, please visit https://www.milliondollarbikeride.org and consider sponsoring the "LAM Foundation Easy Breathers".

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