When Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman first rode in Pelotonia in 2012, he was indulging in a longtime cycling hobby and supporting an organization with relatively new ties to Kenyon.
The ride took on new meaning for him a few months later when his wife, Professor of Sociology Marla Kohlman, was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
On Aug. 6, Kohlman returned for his fifth year of pedaling the 100-mile bike route from Columbus to Gambier for Pelotonia, an annual long-distance bike tour and cancer-research fundraiser. He joined nine other riders in the Kenyon peloton, a group of cyclists that includes faculty and staff members as well as President Sean Decatur.
“It was a beautiful day for a ride,” Decatur said. “The enthusiasm of the riders, the cheering and cowbells on the side of the road, [and] the powerful signs from cancer survivors and their families remind all of us about the larger cause, and inspire everyone to power through to the finish line.”
Since its inception in 2008, Pelotonia has raised more than $106 million for the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, commonly known as the James. Cyclists choose among six routes ranging from 25 to 180 miles and pledge to raise between $1,200 and $2,200. Every dollar goes to support cancer research at the James. More than 7,500 cyclists rode in the event this year.
This year, Pelotonia received an additional $20,000 from K-Bikes, an organization that provides bicycle-repair services to Kenyon and the Gambier community. Half of the donated amount came from a June bicycle auction where 130 donated and abandoned bicycles were refurbished and sold.
“There are a lot of people in the Knox County community who have been touched by cancer and have been provided care at the James,” said Kohlman, whose wife successfully went through treatment there. “It’s a resource for everyone.”
Most of the Pelotonia routes start in downtown Columbus. Kenyon has hosted the first-day finish line at the Kenyon Athletic Center for longer rides since 2012, and the College recently extended its partnership with Pelotonia for five more years. The partnership also has an academic component — as part of Kenyon’s relationship with Pelotonia, six Kenyon students spend each summer researching cancer and working in labs at the Ohio State University.
“We’re very interested in having Pelotonia continue to come to Kenyon and seeing the event grow,” Kohlman said.
The Kenyon peloton is not the only team with Kenyon ties. Chasing Philander, a team of Kenyon alumni from the 1980s, returned for its fifth year. And Midnight Train from Georgia, a peloton in its second year, includes Georgia residents B. Noble Jones ’97, Adrienne Amador ’09 and Erin Ciarimboli, a former director of new student orientation at Kenyon. Jones was inspired to form the team, which includes two cancer survivors, after the deaths of an aunt and a cousin from breast cancer.
“Hands down, it’s the most powerful event of which we’ve ever been a part,” Jones said. “It’s challenging because of the loss we’ve experienced and the pain and suffering that our teammates have been through, but it is so inspirational and hopeful and positive. It’s almost addictive.”
Before registering to ride in his first Pelotonia last year, Jones had been a casual cyclist, getting around on a bike that dated back to his high school years. Then he traded in his old bike for a new set of wheels and began training in earnest with his teammates. This year, he estimates he has spent nearly 10 hours each week in preparation for his 180-mile ride through central Ohio.
“The fact that Kenyon is associated with this momentous effort to end cancer is distinguishing, defining and unique,” Jones said. “I hope riders, volunteers and donors can find room to support Pelotonia.”