Bicyclists will be out in force the next two days in Pasco and Hernando counties, pedaling to raise money to fight cancer.
"We're still in the grass roots stage," Cure on Wheels board member Jack Bevilacqua said. "We're still pretty local, but the theory is that it's a ride not a race. No one is being timed, so it doesn't matter if it takes all day."
And it probably will. There are five different routes for cyclists, including the two-day 167-mile route around the Withlacoochee State Forest and down the Suncoast Trail. Organizers hope to raise $75,000 for the Moffitt Cancer Center and 1Voice Foundation for Childhood Cancers.
Both are familiar to Bevilacqua. He lost both parents to cancer and said they will be on his mind when he rides.
"I have challenged myself to this,'' said Bevilacqua, who lives in Tampa. "But I've always thought, if cancer patients can get up and go to chemo, the least I can do is ride a bike for a while."
Cures on Wheels is modeled after Pan-Mass, the huge Boston-area challenge that has raised more than $239-million in 30 years for cancer research. "(But) we want to be original — we don't want to be known as the Southern Pan Mass challenge," said Richard Spayde, a four-year Leukemia survivor from St. Petersburg, who would be riding this weekend if for not chronic foot pain from his treatments. "We may have copied the fundraising technique that's similar to theirs. We contacted the founder of Pan-Mass, Billy Starr, just to get advice on how to set up the race and other things.
"We just wanted to do things a bit differently, though the rides have the same cause."
Cure on Wheels will have about 70 riders compared to Pan-Mass' more than 5,000. Many of the Cure founders and board members have participated in the Pan-Mass.
"A ride like this and one like Pan-Mass takes a lot of work," said Bevilacqua, who said has ridden three times in the Pan-Mass. "It takes a lot of people, all of who are looking to help against cancer, to pull a weekend event like this off."
Spayde said the local race is bringing in "big money" in only its second year. Last year's event raised more than $50,000, he said.
It's an all weekend job for Spayde. He'll be there from start to finish, and he's had a lot of help.
"I'm alive today because of the hard work of people of year's past," Spayde said. "Everybody here is either a survivor or a relative, but its more than just a ride. It's a weekend event. People just don't leave after finishing. They socialize, make new friends. We want them to come back.
"Honestly, now it's my turn to help others, to help to move forward and complete the circle. When you're told there's a good chance you may die, there's a lot of things you think about. You wonder how you can make a difference, just in case."
Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.