(Posted July 31, 2023)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Travis Pearson will celebrate his 11th wedding anniversary next month in an unusual way: separated from his beloved spouse by more than 100 miles.
While the distance between the two will be partially self-imposed, what will keep the devoted husband and father of three from finding himself living on the couch–or perhaps a haystack on their 54-acre farm in Mount Sterling–is the fact that their separation is for a good cause.
“It’s not just for a good cause,” said Pearson with a laugh. “It is for a great cause.”
On the morning of Aug. 5, Pearson will be in downtown Columbus, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other cyclists with the same goal in mind: putting their bike pedals to the metal to help raise funds to find a cure for cancer as participants in the annual Pelotonia Bicycle Tour.
As Pearson awaits the start of his 101-mile journey, his wife, Molly, and their children will be driving to the finish line in the village of Gambier in Knox County. If the drive goes according to plan, they will be the first faces Pearson sees when his hours-long trek comes to an end.
“It will be so great to see all of them there, because they are the biggest reason why I am doing this,” he explained. “I want to be around to see their faces for many more years to come. They need me to be here. And I want to be here for them.”
Prior to discovering his love for pushing his body to the limit on a road bike to find a cure for cancer, Pearson had never heard of the Pelotonia Bicycle Tour, the largest single-event cycling fundraiser benefiting cancer research in the United States.
“I was living in Connecticut at the time when it was founded [in 2008], so I was not aware of what was happening here in Ohio,” he said.
His lack of knowledge transitioned into full-on interest when he moved to this area and a Pelotonia representative made a presentation at the company he worked for at the time.
“I had always had a desire to participate in a long bike ride event, but I never took the initiative to sign up for one,” Pearson said. “I think part of my hesitation stemmed from them being largely unsupported, meaning I would have to find my own food and restrooms and resources, and I didn’t think I could survive that.”
The prospect of joining a fully supported ride wasn’t the only thing that intrigued him about Pelotonia. He also appreciated the non-profit’s commitment to donate 100 percent of money raised by riders, challengers, and volunteers to fund cancer treatments and research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC) – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
“It’s really focused on putting the dollars where they are going to get the best results,” he said.
At the time of Pearson’s decision to participate in his first Pelotonia Bicycle Tour in 2016, cancer was at the periphery of his life. He had co-workers who had been diagnosed with cancer and whose parents and spouses had been diagnosed with cancer. When his mother was a child, she lost her mother to breast cancer.
And then it hit much closer to home.
Shortly after Pearson completed his first Pelotonia ride, he visited his doctor about lingering pain in his shoulder.
“It was really achy and hindering mostly sports movements–things that I enjoyed, like throwing a baseball or a football or serving a tennis ball,” he said. “I remember I got some shots for a couple of years that would numb the pain for a little while, but it would come back. So, I decided to go ahead and have it looked at more thoroughly.”
An MRI scan detected an enlarged lymph node in his armpit. After dozens of follow-up visits, biopsies, and additional tests, the then 37-year-old Pearson was diagnosed with a chronic type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Pearson considered himself fortunate to have had his cancer detected early before it could “do a lot of damage” to his body, and extremely lucky to have had protein-based treatments that did not cause harsh side effects as can come with chemotherapy and radiation.
He said he is also thankful that his indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma was not going to lessen the ability for him and his wife to expand their family.
“Molly and I had finally reached that point where we were ready to start having children when I got this diagnosis,” he said. “I just feel so lucky that we were able to do so.”
Within a year, Titus Pearson was born, and his father had another Pelotonia Bicycle Tour under his belt. This time it was a 180-mile ride for which, he admits, he was at all prepared.
“I should have trained more for that one,” he said. “And I felt the aftermath for days, so shame on me for that oversight.”
In the five years that followed, Pearson has maintained a commitment to Pelotonia, either riding in the tour itself, or as a challenger where you participate in solo riding adventures or other creative efforts to raise funds for OSUCCC. He and his wife also welcomed two more children, June, who is now 4, and Ivin, who is 2.
The 101-mile bike trek on Aug. 5 will mark Pearson’s seventh appearance in the Pelotonia and the first time his entire family will be there to see him at the finish line. He said their love and support is what motivates him the most to continue to do his part in finding a cure for cancer.
“My kids need me here, my wife needs me here, and I want to be here,” he said. “I am going to be here. This cancer is not what is going to take me out,” he said.
“So, I continue to ride, to spend hours away from my family to train, because this is what I can do to try to cure cancer. These rides can be challenging and punishing and a complete struggle to get through, but it is not comparable to the struggle some people have that are dealing with cancer, or to the struggle that families go through when they lose someone they love to cancer.”
In the 15 years since the Pelotonia Bicycle Tour was established, donors, riders, challengers, and volunteers have raised more than $268 million for OSUCCC.
To date, Pearson and his team of supporters have helped raise more than $8,000 for the cause. Although the ride is on Aug. 5, Pearson will be accepting donations until the beginning of September. To donate, visit https://www.pelotonia.org/profile/TP0094.