While preparing for her summer holiday as a freshman in high school, Claire Olvany’s parents suggested a cycling trip. Ever since that first trip with Overland Tours, Claire has been hooked on cycling and bicycle touring. She has sought out ways to include cycling in her summer plans.
Claire spent two more high school summers on self-supported cycling trips. “Each day we awoke before sunrise and biked for many miles.” Not your average summer holiday for a high school teenager! During the summer between high school and her first year at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, Claire rode her bicycle across Europe.
This past summer – four years after that first cycling trip got her hooked – Claire spent the summer between her freshman and sophomore year of college again on her bike. This time, though, she combined her passion for cycling with her desire to raise awareness and funds for the cancer community.
I have been committed to the fight against cancer ever since I was in middle school. I began as a participant in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. As I grew older and became more involved in Relay, many of my friends and relatives heard the words, ‘You have cancer.’ These diagnoses inspired me to take on an even bigger role in this important event and I eventually became a co-chair.
So this summer, Claire was one of 127 participants who rode across the U.S. this summer with 4K for Cancer. Their combined efforts raise nearly $775,000 to support young adults affected by cancer.
The 4K for Cancer is a program of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing lives by supporting, educating and connecting young adults who are affected by cancer and their loved ones, especially where social support and resources are low. Since 2001, groups of college students have undertaken journeys across America with the goal of offering hope, inspiration and support to cancer communities along the way.
Claire rode as 4K for Cancer Service Coordinator with Team San Diego. The 27 team members set out to ride from Baltimore to San Diego, covering 4,000 miles in 70 days with a desire to “cycle, inspire, unite.” It was the first year for this route, so Claire and the San Diego team were “blazing a new trail across America.” Once they left Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, they headed south through Virginia before striking west through the southern states. They made their way across the country and finished in southern California.
In between Maryland and California, the route included included Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
Along the way, local communities donated meals and lodging. Every once in a while, the team would be treated to a night’s slumber in a welcoming home or dormitory or a meal seated at a real table. For the most part, though, they ate and slept on gymnasium floors. In return for the generous hospitality they received from communities along the way, Claire and her team spent about ten days of community service during their 70 days of travel.
Claire explains, “I cannot even begin to express the gratitude I have for the many churches, families, and individuals that helped us out.” Having food and lodging donated by community members not only made the trip possible, but it also meant that every dollar donated went directly towards improving the lives of young adults with cancer. Claire was eager “to extend an enormous thank you” to everyone who supported her and her team along their way.
In addition to service days, the team had a couple days to rest their legs. Since those were mostly spent hiking or navigating the local community, the term “rest” is used loosely here. Most of their 70 days were spent pedaling their bikes and most of those days involved 70 or more miles of riding each day. There were even a few century rides thrown in on the route.
The team endured tornado weather on their way into South Carolina, sweltering southern summer heat, barren desert landscape, mountain climbs, and even a stomach bug that temporarily took out nine of their team. But through it all, they saw the beauty of America – in its sights and in its people. “This trip was the experience of a lifetime! It showed me the true beauty of the United States and also pushed me to personal limits.”
Days that stand out in Claire’s mind include one from early in the trip. Dean, a gentleman from Durham, NC, rode with them into Asheboro, NC after sharing his story of losing not one, but two wives to cancer.
Another was their entry into Alabama. “To say that Alabama surprised me would be an understatement. I was not expecting it to be anything like we’ve encountered. The sign at the border – ‘Alabama the Beautiful’ – did not lie.” Claire was taken with the unexpected beauty of the state and enjoyed her first mountain climb here, which culminated in waterfalls, where the team couldn’t resist splashing around for a bit.
Highlights of the ride across America for Claire include crossing the Continental Divide and visiting the Grand Canyon and other national parks. She has fond memories of braving hot desert days and cold Rocky mornings. And she will cherish the memory of having lunch with Doug Ulman, CEO of LIVESTRONG the founder of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
Claire provided a breakdown of her journey in numbers:
- 70 days on the road
- 15 states visited
- 4,204 miles pedaled
- 5 Century Rides
- 108° F highest temperature
- 57° F lowest temperature
- 60 nights spent sleeping on the floor
- 5,460 meals donated to our group
- 2 College scholarships that I personally got to hand out to young cancer survivors
- 3 flat tires (200+ for our entire team!)
While Claire made new friends and had fun, the reason for her ride was always close to her heart. That same year that Claire became co-chair for American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, cancer hit closer to home. “Just days before Relay, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is one of the most influential people in my life and her experience was one of the strongest motivators for me to continue fundraising for cancer research and participate in the 4K this summer.”
Her fundraising efforts raised more than $8,000 for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Each morning, Claire had the opportunity to dedicate her ride to someone affected by cancer. Focusing on their battles against cancer helped Claire through, and put her challenging journey in perspective.
Claire’s favorite quote is: “Twenty years from now, you’ll regret the thing you didn’t do more than the things you did, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Ever since her parents first encouraged her to “throw off the bowlines” and see the world by bicycle, Claire has spent her summers exploring, dreaming and discovering – even discovering herself – on two wheels. We have no doubt that Claire will never regret the summer she braved her first cycling trip or this past summer of combining her passions for bike touring and fighting cancer.
We look forward to hearing about Claire’s future adventures… and letting you know about them here!
If you would like to see more pictures from or hear more about Claire’s bike tour this summer, visit her blog.
If you’re interested in the charities that Claire has helped through her efforts or that are mentioned in this article, here are links:
- 4K for Cancer
- Claire Olvany’s fundraising page for 4K for Cancer
- Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults
- American Cancer Society
- Relay for Life
- Dr. Tony Breitbach discovers that, ““there is no better way to see a country than by bicycle.”
- Glenna Lampner makes the switch from running and learns to love cycling.
- Phil Adams, at more than 70 years old, decides to try something new and learns it’s “harder than watching TV!”
- Maureen Fagan sees where her adventurous spirit takes her.
- Higher Gear owner, Sylvie Légère tours the Le Petit Train du Nord.