Record number of LOWVELO riders raise more than $433k for lifesaving cancer research at Hollings

February 22, 2023
a group of people sitting in folding chairs grin and wave at the camera
Bridget Horgan, second from left, a cancer survivor and MUSC student, captained the largest team of riders at LOWVELO22. Photo by Kristin Lee

A record-breaking year for LOWVELO riders was capped off on Thursday night with the Jerry Zucker Awards Ceremony. A total of 891 riders and 105 teams raised more than $433,000 for MUSC Hollings Cancer Center to make the November 2022 event the biggest yet, but there was one rider who owned the room at the Harbour Club at WestEdge on this night.

Top fundraiser Aron Kuch bravely shared his “Why I Ride” story in a video that brought attendees to tears, made them laugh and ended in a rousing standing ovation for Kuch, who raised more than $25,000 to honor his late wife, Heather, who was diagnosed with thymic cancer in January 2021 and passed away last March. Thymic cancer is rare, affecting only about 400 people in the U.S. each year.

“Heather always just had this thought in her mind that if she's going to have this rare type of cancer, at least people are going to learn from it and be able to treat it better for the next person,” said Kuch. “There’s certainly an aspect of community riding that is fun and exciting, but I think LOWVELO adds that extra layer of knowing that all the fundraising is going toward cancer research.”

Though Aron had two big cycling crashes during his marriage to Heather, he knew she would have been both proud of and amused by his efforts to ride 100 miles in LOWVELO. “I think she would be excited for me that I'd put in the work and gotten ready and all of that, but I think she would also be rolling her eyes a little bit that she passes away and the first thing I do is hop right back on a bike,” Kuch recalled with a chuckle.

Why I Ride: Aron Kuch

Kuch joined eight other riders in LOWVELO22 who became members of the High Tide Club, which includes those who raise more than $5,000 for the cause.

Some of the event's top teams were also honored, including a group of MUSC College of Health Professions students who named themselves the Training Wheels. At 58 riders they were the biggest team in LOWVELO22 and raised more than $17,000, led by team captain and cancer survivor Bridget Horgan.

“She stopped me mid-conversation to let me know that there will be at least 52 incoming students in her program next year, and every one will ride with her,” LOWVELO recruitment and fundraising coordinator Jaclyn Summers, told the crowd.

The top 10 fundraising teams combined to raise over $172,000. So where does all of the money go? Hollings director Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., explained that events like LOWVELO allow Hollings to have unrestricted funds that can be used for special projects.

“We can use it for very high-risk, high-reward research that's not available to us from the federal agencies,” said DuBois. “This type of funding is key because it gives us the opportunity to invest in things that are going to really make a quantum leap forward and allows us to do that much faster.”

LOWVELO funds over the years have helped to establish a CAR-T-cell therapy program at Hollings. In this therapy, cells are taken out of patients and reengineered in a lab to be better fighters and more effective at killing cancer. They are put back in the patient and in some instances for leukemia and lymphoma, the patients are cured.

“What we're trying to do now is expand our production facility because we can make these cells and we can treat one or two patients at a time. But as this gets more effective for different types of cancer, we're going to have to make more cells, more quickly to treat more patients,” said DuBois. “Right now, we're the only facility in the state of South Carolina that produces these cells in an academic center and we wouldn't have been able to get that program off the ground without the support from LOWVELO.”

a woman hands another woman a large framed bicyclist jersey 
Anita Zucker, right, accepts a framed jersey during the Jerry Zucker Awards Ceremony for LOWVELO. Photo by Clif Rhodes

The funds from LOWVELO have also been used to bring more cancer specialists to work at Hollings and to support the Hollings early-phase cancer research program, which helps to bring the most promising new drugs to patients much faster than if they had to wait for Food and Drug Administration approval.

LOWVELO will return for its fifth year on Nov. 4. Registration will open this spring.

“Everything that you do and everything you did this past year makes such an impact on the lives of so many,” said Anita Zucker, who founded the Jerry Zucker Ride for Hope in her late husband’s honor, before the ride became LOWVELO. “So, keep doing this. You will make such a difference for every patient.”