On wheels and on foot, Mason students will go cross-country to raise money to fight cancer

When Ryan Allen takes off this summer on his 4,000-mile, cross-country bike ride, he will write his mother’s name on his leg as a tribute.

Ryan will ride to benefit the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. But after Ryan’s mom, Linda, had what she described as a cancer “scare,” the ride for the George Mason University senior became personal.

“It got a lot more important to me,” said the integrated studies major who is concentrating on advertising.

Ryan will be part of a team of 20 to 30 riders biking west 70 days from Baltimore to San Diego.

Coming east as a runner on a 49-day journey from San Francisco to New York will be George Mason senior Jennifer Allen (no relation). Jennifer said her grandmother died three years ago from breast cancer, but being a nursing major makes running for Ulman resonate even more.

“It’s symbolic of what cancer patients go through,” she said. “They don’t have that choice whether to deal with pain or not, so I’m looking forward to the struggle. It’s a way to show what they go through a little bit.”

Now in its 15th year, the 4K for Cancer hopes to bring in $1 million in donations to support young adults affected by cancer, starting with the $4,500 each participant is required to raise. There are six teams of 20 to 30 participants—two teams run; four bike.

To ensure participants are in shape, Ulman sends out a training program that begins in February and stresses cross training and incremental increases in mileage.

Ryan runs marathons, so he isn’t worried about the trip in which riders pedal every mile.

Jennifer is more apprehensive. She ran the mile and two-mile in high school, but spent most of her time at Mason playing Ultimate Frisbee and soccer. Before starting Ulman’s training program, she put in time on an elliptical machine, swam and lifted weights.

Runners participate in stages and in two-to four-mile increments. They run eight to 16 miles a day and about 500 miles of the 4,000-mile route. For runners and bikers, food and sleeping quarters are acquired through donations as they go. “Leg leaders” on each team handle those responsibilities.

“There are definitely times you don’t want to get back out there,” said Colleen Walsh, Jennifer’s friend and fellow nursing student who completed the run last year. “But when you think about things people fighting cancer are going through, you push through.”

Ryan said his best friend growing up beat testicular cancer, another reason his ride will resonate.

“I’m just happy he’s doing it for the entire good,” his mom, Linda, said. “It’s nice he’s spending time focusing on community involvement before he gets involved in post-college life.”

“I’m just focusing on what the ride will mean,” Ryan said, “the money it will raise and the lives that will be affected by it.”