As a physician and researcher, Don Benson always has answered the call in the fight against cancer.

On the night of the first Pelotonia, answering a literal call changed Benson's life.

Benson, a doctor and researcher at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, was enjoying the opening ceremonies ahead of the inaugural fundraising ride for cancer research in 2009 when he received a phone call from a number he didn't recognize.

At the other end of the line was a man who said his son, Matthew Hare, was in the intensive-care unit after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Benson scheduled a meeting with the pair to develop a treatment plan before returning his focus to the 180-mile ride ahead.

Hare was riding alongside Benson the next year at Pelotonia and the duo have shared the road many times during the fundraiser in the years that followed.

"If you saw that story on TV you wouldn't believe that it was actually real," Benson said.

Benson, who went to Hare's wedding and visited him after his first child was born, said the friendship has continued to grow. In Hare's rider profile on the Pelotonia website, he calls Benson "a tremendous man" and "the greatest doctor in the world."

Benson, who is 47 and lives in Orange Township with his wife, Laura, and their children, said he thinks many Pelotonia participants could tell similar tales.

He said the event has a way of bringing people closer together for a great cause.

"It's not unique," said Benson, a member of the Purple TuTu Society peloton. "There are probably a lot of stories out there like that."

As an avid marathon runner, Benson said, he "wasn't a big cyclist" when he "foolishly" signed up for 180-mile route in Pelotonia's first year. He said he's since learned to love participating in the annual event every year.

Although he tries to shave as much time as possible off each marathon attempt, Benson said, he savors his participation in Pelotonia.

"You cross the finish line and say, 'Man, I've got to wait another year now!' " he said.

Benson, whose own research has benefited from Pelotonia funding, said he has no plans to stop riding in the near future.

He said he truly believes one year it will be a "celebratory event."

"I couldn't come to work every day if I didn't believe we're going to find the cures for cancer someday," he said.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@TWGallick