Cyclists, volunteers make LOWVELO22 a success

November 08, 2022
a man in cycling gear squats next to a sign that says Why I Ride with dozens of handwritten messages on it
Aron Kuch rode 100 miles to raise money for cancer research in memory of his wife, Heather. Photo by Kristin Lee

“Really fun 100 miles @lowvelo. Next year, same time, same place,” posted George Hincapie on Instagram, along with a photo of himself jauntily leaning against his bike. Easy for him to say, perhaps – Hincapie is a professional cyclist who’s competed in the Tour de France and the Olympics.

Although not all the cyclists who crossed the finish line at LOWVELO22 on Saturday were that breezily assured, everyone at the event shared an excitement about raising money for cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

Participants could choose from 10-, 23-, 50- or 100-mile routes as well as in-person spinning and at-home options. This year, a record-breaking 892 people signed up for the event.

people cheer as bicyclists pass Hollings 
a family of five with the girls in tutus makes silly faces at the camera 
Top: Supporters cheer on the cyclists at the Hollings Rally Line in front of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo by Zach Pollak Photography
Bottom: The Graboyes family: Rebeca Graboyes and Hollings researcher and surgeon Evan Graboyes, M.D., along with Bailey, August and Harper, enjoyed the beautiful day on the Isle of Palms after riding to raise money for cancer research.

Hollings director Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., rode the 23-mile route, starting at Brittlebank Park in Charleston and ending on the Isle of Palms. There's nothing like cycling over the Ravenel Bridge on a beautiful blue-sky day among a group of cyclists enthusiastic about the cause, he said.

“The support of the community makes all the difference in the research we’re able to do at Hollings,” DuBois said. “Funding from LOWVELO has put us on the path to developing ‘purified’ CAR-T-cells, for example. We are grateful for everyone who committed to raise funds as well as all those who volunteered, sponsored and cheered us on along the side of the road! This was, by far, the best LOWVELO yet.”

Participants included doctors, nurses, researchers, former patients and community members whose lives have been forever changed by cancer. Many wrote on the “Why I Ride” wall once they crossed the finish line at the Isle of Palms, including the names of people they loved and general messages of support: “My Aunt Lynn and Nana.” “My uncle, Randolph.” “For my Grammy.” “For my patients & my mom.” “For everyone who cannot ride.”

Aron Kuch wrote a message for his wife, Heather.

Heather Kuch died in March 2022, just over a year after being diagnosed with thymic cancer. Cancer in the thymus, a gland between the lungs that trains white blood cells called T-cells, is rare – about 400 people across the country are diagnosed each year with this cancer.

The Kuches knew that Heather’s case was serious. She was diagnosed at Stage 4, and because this cancer is so rare, there isn’t as much research as with other cancers. But as Aron Kuch dug into the data and started learning about cancer, they drew hope, as they saw how much cancer outcomes have improved because of the research and clinical trials that have been conducted.

“All through the cancer journey, we were reading about new discoveries that have been made over the last decade or so and seen how, especially in the areas of immunotherapy and targeted therapies, they're doing a great job of helping patients survive longer,” he said. “And that research just brought us hope. That was maybe a little bit more my cup of tea – I'm a nerd that's going to go down and dig into those things. Heather – I think her focus was just that she didn't want her experience to be wasted. She wanted other people to learn from it, to be able to help the next people.”

four bicyclists cross under the finish line with the American flag against a blue sky 
Among the riders were Hollings researchers, members of the MUSC community and people whose lives have been touched by cancer. Photo by Kristin Lee

When Heather died, Aron Kuch knew that he wanted to ride in LOWVELO22. Not only did he want to ride, but he wanted to ride the longest route. He started his training by biking 20 or 30 miles and worked his way up, until by the week before LOWVELO he had biked more than 70 miles in a single ride.

He said that he thought of Heather as he pushed himself physically to lengthen his rides.

“When I get to those hard times of the ride ... the place that really helps me dig down deep is to remember physically how hard it was for her at the time, and to kind of put my challenges into perspective and to remember that she kept pushing through, and she kept trying, and I can do the same,” he said.

From 70 miles to 100 is a big leap, though. Kuch passed the finish line drained – his fingers tingling, his toes numb and his legs exhausted. But he did it. He cycled 100 miles.

He praised the volunteers at aid stations who handed out food and water, the police who escorted the pack over the Ravenel Bridge and his fellow riders.

Though he was one of the later arrivals, he was not the last. Nearly last was Hollings researcher Leonardo Ferreira, Ph.D. Though many had gone home by the time he arrived, one group still relaxing under a tent out of the hot sun gave him a hearty cheer.

Ferreira summed up the experience on Twitter: “I biked 100 miles for #cancer #research @lowvelo @muschollings. I ... got lost twice & was alone for most of it. But I made it. #Science is the same. If it feels comfortable, then you’re not pushing boundaries & maximizing #discovery.”