My First RAGBRAI: An Incredible Experience

Aug 12, 2016 8:00 AM ET

My First RAGBRAI: An Incredible Experience

I was told that RAGBRAI was hard to put into words, that it was just something you needed to experience in order to understand. I don’t think you can fully grasp the magnitude of 35,000 people riding 420 miles on their bikes across the state of Iowa for 7 days until you see it in person. This week was full of firsts for me … my first time sleeping in a tent, my first time in Iowa, my first RAGBRAI, and my first time with our extended Team LIVESTRONG family.

This was the 10th year of Team LIVESTRONG participating in RAGBRAI and some members have been there from the start. RAGBRAI is the largest multi-day cycling event in the world, celebrating its 44th year of riders traveling from west to east across the great state of Iowa. This year our amazing group of riders has raised over $150,000 for LIVESTRONG’s free programs and services. While most people in the group have their own cancer connection and reason for joining the team, some just wanted the challenge of cycling across the state of Iowa. A few people on our own team even said they had signed up years ago for RAGBRAI, intending it to be a “one and done” event, but many of them have been back time and time again. When asked one evening during a team meeting, “why do you RAGBRAI …” the unanimous answer was simple, that this team had become a family.

Thursday was our Tribute Jersey day and this year the team rode for Katie. Katie is our teammate, Tina’s, daughter who passed away from an inoperable brain tumor (DIPG) in 2007 at the age of thirteen. Each year Katie’s birthday falls during the week of RAGBRAI and this year she would have been 22. Many other riders that day asked Team LIVESTRONG members the significance of the “Katie” jersey and they were able to share Katie’s story. Thursday morning also had another special moment when brain cancer survivor Jack rode 15 miles on a custom tandem bike in his first RAGBRAI. Several members of the team got to “ride with Jack” making those miles even more special. The entire team stayed with Jack cheering him on for 15 miles as he smiled and waved the entire time. Jack’s momentous ride was even captured on the local news as he shared his message of never giving up and getting out of his hospital bed to now biking in RAGBRAI. Hope, fight, never giving up … those are the kind of moments that RAGBRAI brings.

The week was filled with far too many highlights that our riders experienced during their time in Iowa. My favorite part of the day was our team meetings each evening at camp as the sun was setting and the group gathered together. Each night people could share their story or even just their favorite highlight from the day. The first few days I stood by and just listened, and at times tears filled my eyes or a smile came across my face. I also have a personal connection to cancer and at camp I fought through the tears and shared my mom’s courageous battle with cancer. I told the group how I wished she would have been able to experience this week with them because I know she would have loved every minute of it.

You see RAGBRAI is hard to put into words—how do you describe a week that re-fills your heart and soul, lifts you up when you feel like giving up, and forms lifelong friendships? I’ve always believed the truth in the quote “friends are the family we chose ourselves”. This week I extended my family by almost 70 incredible individuals from all over the US and I’m already counting down the weeks until we can laugh, cry, and hug all over again.