Record ride: LOWVELO participants raise $650k for cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center

March 07, 2024
a man in a loud floral sports coat and a man in a blue suit and red tie sit next to each other, grinning and holding acrylic trophy plaques in an abstract shape of palm leaves
Chris Winn, left, manager of LOWVELO and captain of the Charleston Beer Riders, and Scott Hellman, LOWVELO Executive Committee member and captain of the Killer T's, hold their teams' awards as two of the top fundraising teams. Photo by Clif Rhodes

It was one for the record books. LOWELO23 had more riders, volunteers and dollars raised than any ride in its five-year history. Participants – all 1,334 of them – combined to smash the fundraising record, collecting more than $650,000 for lifesaving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. That’s more than a 50% increase over the previous year. An additional nearly $1.3M was raised through sponsorships. This ensures that all rider-raised dollars go directly to cancer research. That puts the total raised for LOWVELO23 at $1.94M. It all culminated Thursday night with the Jerry Zucker Awards Ceremony at the Harbour Club at WestEdge.

“We have people participating in lots of ways and regardless of the mileage they choose to cover, the impact, joining the teams, riding with friends, supporting your family is huge,” said event manager Chris Winn. “This was a year where we got to see people show up and lean into purpose.”

One of those riders with purpose was Michael Naioti, a 50-mile pedaler and LOWVELO Executive Committee member. He bravely shared his “Why I Ride” story in a video that brought the room to a rousing applause. Naioti raised almost $7,000 to honor his late father, John, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December of 2018 and passed away a year later.

“My dad was a great guy,” said Naioti. “He was the guy that made friends with everybody. Whether it was the bank teller or the cashier at the grocery store, he became fast friends with everybody.”

a group of nice people pose in an event space with their awards 
Members of the High Tide Club, who raised more than $5,000 for Hollings through LOWVELO23, at the Jerry Zucker Awards Ceremony. Photo by Kristin Lee

Naioti joined 17 other riders in LOWVELO23 who became members of the High Tide Club, which includes those who raise more than $5,000 for the cause. His team, Team TD, has raised nearly $48,000 for LOWVELO throughout the years.

“It’s something we’re so proud of. I think my dad would be blown away with where we are today,” he said.

Some of the event’s top teams were also honored, including Team Johnson & Johnson, which raised a whopping $56,000, and the event’s most unique team, South Bay of Mount Pleasant, a group of retirees. Participants on this team picked their fitness activity and logged miles for months leading up to the ride, finishing with more than $17,000 raised.

a group of eight people pose in an event reception area 
The top fundraising teams for LOWVELO23 were honored at the Jerry Zucker Awards Ceremony. Photo by Kristin Lee

The top 10 fundraising teams combined to raise over $280,000. So where does all the money go? Hollings director Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D. explained that events like LOWVELO allow MUSC Hollings Cancer Center to work on high-risk, high-reward research that federal agencies don’t fund.

For instance, LOWVELO funds over the years have helped to establish a CAR-T cell therapy research program at Hollings.

“What happens in this process is we take a blood sample from the patient, and we isolate the immune cells that fight the cancer,” said DuBois. “We grow those in the laboratory, and we engineer them so that they're going to be even better cancer-fighting cells. And then we give them back to the patient in the infusion unit.”

This January, Hollings started its first two patients on a clinical trial to receive purified CAR-T cells, partly funded by LOWVELO.

“The first patient was totally cancer-free within three weeks,” said DuBois. “He had a B-cell lymphoma, and it responded really well. What we found was that cells made at Hollings are much stronger cancer fighters. They persist much longer, so the remission happens sooner.”

Right now, Hollings is one of only a handful of cancer centers across the country where these cancer-fighting cells are being made on-site in laboratories and used for the center’s patients enrolled in a clinical trial.

a man in a suit stands in front of a podium with two microphones with windows behind him showing a view of Charleston 
Dr. Raymond DuBois, director of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, explains how the dollars raised through LOWVELO enable Hollings researchers to pursue promising ideas and generate the preliminary data that could then persuade federal agencies to invest in the research. Photo by Clif Rhodes

The funds from LOWVELO have also been used to bring more cancer specialists to work at Hollings and to train the next generation of scientists, physicians and researchers – a generation DuBois said is needed to attack the cancer problem.

“Funds raised by LOWVELO will shape the careers of many individuals that will be able to create their own lab programs and really have an impact on cancer research moving forward.”

LOWVELO will return for its sixth year on Nov. 2. Registration is now open and Winn has a challenge for this year’s riders. After giving out bike bells to those in attendance at the awards ceremony, Winn explained.

“As a cyclist and as a LOWVELO rider since 2019, I use a bike bell all the time because it’s a great way to let people know you’re coming. For cancer patients at Hollings the ringing of a bell has a very different meaning,” he said. “We’re lucky enough to have a cheerleading section outside Hollings every year when we ride past during LOWVELO. This year, it’s our job as riders to cheer for them – the nurses, the patients, the doctors. When we go by the Hollings Cancer Center this year, we’re going to make an awful lot of noise to show them how much we care.”