Everyone riding in the annual Pelotonia trip to fund cancer research has a reason to be there. Dr. Don Benson has multiple reasons.
The fundraising bike ride that will start rolling Saturday, Aug. 10, hasn't just allowed Benson to recognize his friends and family who've fought cancer; it's also funded research at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and given him a place to connect with his patients outside the clinic.
"I signed up probably a week or two after the event was first announced in January or February of 2009,"said Benson, an assistant professor of medicine and education coordinator for the division of hematology at the cancer center.
"I have done a lot of endurance events, and then to find out that the funds went specifically to the James -- it was a no-brainer."
Since then, he and his wife, Laura, have raised more than $30,000 for Pelotonia, which funnels 100 percent of its donations to OSU's James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Center.
In Pelotonia's first year, 2,250 riders raised $4.5 million. Last year, 6,212 riders from 43 states and three countries raised $16.9 million.
So far for this year's ride -- in which 6,645 riders are signed up to pedal 25-, 50-, 75-, 100-, 155- or 180-mile routes -- more than $9.4 million in donations have been pledged.
"The participation has changed so much, but the ride itself and the experience is still the same," said Benson, who will make the 100-mile ride from Columbus to Gambier as part of the RideMMORE peloton, which rides in support of multiple myeloma research and the memory of those who lost their battle with the disease.
"What's most amazing to me is how much our community has embraced it, and it's become something much bigger than just Pelotonia or just the James," Benson said. "You can't go to Kroger and not see a green arrow sticker on someone's car or to the mall and not see someone wearing a One Goal shirt. It's just something the whole community has gotten behind and it's made the whole thing more special."
Benson, a Lewis Center resident who specializes in treating patients with multiple myeloma, amyloidosis, lymphoma and bone marrow transplantation, is a member of one of the first research teams that received Pelotonia funds in 2010.
Along with Dr. Flavia Pichiorri, Benson received a two-year, $100,000 Pelotonia Idea Grant to research how multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, reacts with immune and bone marrow cells.
In April, Benson and Pichiorri learned they had received a $1 million grant from the American Cancer Society to complete patient trials using their new treatment over the course of the next four years.
"I like to stress that this money is not just going to build a new building or buy some new glassware; it's really going into transformational things," Benson said. "Without the Pelotonia investment, my research would still be sitting on the shelf in the lab, waiting for an opportunity."
Pelotonia underwriters make it possible for 100 percent of the ride donations to support the James and the Solove Research Center. Pelotonia reports half of the funds are used to recruit the best and the brightest doctors and research to OSU. The rest of the funds are allocated to supporting new ideas such as Benson's, purchasing advanced research equipment and investing in the next generation of researchers.
Although Benson's RideMMORE team averages 50 riders and the top fundraising Limited Brands peloton has 3,214 members, just five riders are needed to form a peloton. Depending on which ride route they take, participants are asked to raise between $1,200 and $2,200 each. Those who can't take part in the ride can sign up to be virtual riders with just a $10 commitment.
Volunteer positions also are available.
"I always tell people the fundraising is absolutely the easiest part of the ride," said Benson, who added he doesn't spend much time in training. "I've found that people want to get involved because they've been affected by cancer and they want to fight against it, and they want to get behind OSU to do it."